Patients Who Think Positively About Aging Enhance Cognition, Memory

Ground Picture/Shutterstock

A study conducted by the Yale School of Public Health has found that older patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a common type of memory loss, were 30 percent more likely to regain normal cognition if they had taken in positive beliefs about aging from their culture, compared to those who had taken in negative beliefs. The study was published this week in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers also found that these positive beliefs also enabled participants to recover their cognition up to two years earlier than those with negative age beliefs. This cognitive recovery advantage was found regardless of baseline MCI severity, they said.

“Most people assume there is no recovery from MCI, but in fact half of those who have it do recover,” said Becca Levy, PhD, professor of public health and of psychology and lead author of the study, in a statement. “Little is known about why some recover while others don’t. That’s why we looked at positive age beliefs, to see if they would help provide an answer.”

The study included 1,716 participants ages 65 and older who were drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, a national longitudinal study. Older people in the positive age-belief group who started the study with normal cognition were less likely to develop MCI over the next 12 years than those in the negative age-belief group, regardless of their baseline age and physical health.

Levy predicted that positive age beliefs could play an important role in cognitive recovery because her previous experimental studies with older persons found that positive age beliefs reduced the stress caused by cognitive challenges, increased self-confidence about cognition, and improved cognitive performance.

“Our previous research has demonstrated that age beliefs can be modified,” Levy said. “Therefore, age-belief interventions at the individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery.”