AGE/DOSE
Brain & Neurons

Latest Yale Study Suggests a Positive Outlook Toward Aging Can Reverse Memory Loss

Older individuals with memory loss associated with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are more likely to recover when they have a positive attitude regarding aging.

By Bennett M. Sherman

Key Points

  • Older people who were more optimistic about aging had a 30.2% greater likelihood of recovery from MCI, which primarily includes memory decline.
  • Study participants with a positive outlook on aging had a faster recovery transition from MCI to normal cognition with about a two-year recovery time advantage.
  • In older individuals with normal cognition at the study’s beginning, those with a positive attitude about aging were less likely to develop MCI during the study’s 12-year duration.

It’s widely assumed that most people with MCI never recover, yet nearly half of older people with MCI regain normal cognition. The reasons behind this improvement aren’t well understood. Furthermore, no studies to date had explored the effects of a cultural predisposition — a positive outlook toward aging — on MCI patients regaining normal cognition.

Published in JAMA Network Open, Slade and Levy from Yale University show that a positive attitude toward aging is tied to a 30.2% greater likelihood of older individuals with MCI regaining normal cognition. The researchers’ data also show that those who view aging more optimistically and recover from MCI transition from MCI to normal cognition with about a two-year recovery time advantage. Moreover, in older individuals with normal cognition at the beginning of the study, those who were more optimistic about aging were less likely to develop MCI over the study’s 12-year course. These findings suggest that having a positive view toward aging can help older people with MCI recover their normal cognitive abilities.

Having a Positive Outlook on Aging Improves Odds of Reversing Memory Loss

“I think there is an assumption that people who develop mild cognitive impairment are inevitably going to get worse,” says study co-author Becca Levy, PhD, in a press release. “Half the people who develop mild cognitive impairment improve and regain normal cognition.”

To better understand why some older people with MCI recover normal cognitive function and others don’t, Slade and Levy examined 1,716 study participants with an average age of 77.8 years. By administering an age-belief questionnaire measuring attitudes toward aging, they divided participants into two groups: those with positive aging beliefs and others with negative views of aging.

The Yale-based researchers administered exams to measure MCI seven times from 2008 to 2020 and found that those with positive aging beliefs displayed a 30.2% greater likelihood of recovering cognition than the negative age-belief group. These data provide evidence that a positive outlook concerning aging makes it more likely that an aged individual will recover from MCI.

(Levy & Slade | JAMA Network Open) Older individuals with MCI had a 30.2% increased likelihood of reversing memory loss compared to those with negative age-beliefs. About half of the study participants with MCI recovered normal cognition, but those with positive age-beliefs (green dots) had a 30.2% increased likelihood of recovery compared to those with negative age-beliefs (yellow dots).

Slade and Levy performed additional statistical analyses to find if those with a positive attitude about aging recovered from MCI faster than those with negative aging beliefs. They found that those with positive beliefs about aging recovered an average of two years faster than those with negative beliefs, adding further support to the benefits of viewing aging in a positive light.

To get a better idea of whether MCI incidence differs depending on one’s attitude toward aging, Slade and Levy examined study participants who had normal cognition at the beginning of the study. The research duo found that individuals in this group with a positive outlook on aging were significantly less likely to develop MCI over the study’s 12-year course than those with negative aging beliefs. These findings provide evidence that a positive attitude toward aging can help preserve memory abilities.

“People who have a positive attitude about aging have been shown to be more social and outgoing as well as more likely to take care of themselves by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, compared to those with a negative attitude about aging,” says Dr. Andrew Budson, MD, chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System and associate director of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in a press release. “These activities — socializing, exercising, and eating a healthy diet — are protective against cognitive decline.”

More Study Participants with Depression and Possibly Alzheimer’s Disease Had Negative Aging Beliefs

One limitation of the study was that there were more people with depression in the negative aging-belief group than those with a positive aging outlook. Depression is associated with inflammation throughout the body, which can drive cognitive decline. The possibility also looms that those with a negative outlook toward aging had Alzheimer’s disease and were having more difficulties in their daily lives that influenced their outlooks. Having more individuals with depression and possibly Alzheimer’s disease in the negative aging-belief group could have skewed the results to make it look like a positive outlook on aging has a greater effect than it actually does.

Source

Levy BR, Slade MD. Role of Positive Age Beliefs in Recovery From Mild Cognitive Impairment Among Older Persons. JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Apr 3;6(4):e237707. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.7707. PMID: 37043204; PMCID: PMC10098975.

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