This new study is the first of its kind to investigate whether culture-based age beliefs influence the risk of developing dementia in older people, including those who carry the high-risk variant of the APOE gene.
The study, led by Yale School of Public Health, followed 4 765 people, with an average age of 72 and without dementia at the beginning of the study, for four years.
Dementia, which principally affects older people, is associated with a decline in memory and cognitive function, affecting a person’s ability to perform certain everyday tasks.
The study found that positive beliefs surrounding old age had a protective effect on the brain for all participants, taking into account their health.
Indeed, the benefit was also observed in people carrying a variant of the APOE gene exposing them to a higher risk of dementia, accounting for 26% of participants in the study.
Participants in this group with positive age beliefs were almost 50% less likely to develop the disease than their peers who held negative age beliefs: they had a 2.7% risk of developing dementia, compared to a 6.1% risk for those with negative beliefs about aging, according to the study.
“We found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors of dementia,” said lead author Becca Levy, professor of public health and of psychology. “This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism, which is a source of negative age beliefs.”
A previous study, published in 2015, found that negative beliefs about aging significantly reduced the volume of the hippocampus, a crucial region of the brain for memory and an indicator for Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia.