Negative thinking could increase the risk of dementia

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Researchers emphasize the importance of breaking out of negative thought patterns

While recent studies have found that factors like weight and exercise can contribute to the likelihood of consumers developing dementia, a new study explored how mental health can also play a role. 

Researchers from University College London found that having persistent negative thoughts can increase consumers’ risk for dementia. 

“Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia,” said researcher Dr. Natalie Marchant. “Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia."

Fighting negative thoughts

The researchers had over 300 participants involved in the study, all of whom were over the age of 55. 

The study went on for two years, during which the participants’ work was two-fold. They reported on their usual thought patterns, including how long they typically ruminate on things that are troublesome. Their cognitive function was also measured, which involved general language and memory function, among other skills. 

Additionally, a group of the participants was chosen to receive brain scans, which the researchers used to gauge their levels of amyloid and tau -- two proteins that have been closely linked with dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

The study revealed that participants who struggled to break free from negative thought cycles were more likely to experience a more dramatic cognitive decline by the end of the study. 

“We propose that repetitive negative thinking may be a new risk factor for dementia as it could contribute to dementia in a unique way,” said Dr. Marchant. 

Higher dementia risk

The researchers learned that participants who ruminated more on negative things were affected in several ways: they had a greater build-up of amyloid and tau in their brains, they were more prone to anxiety and depression, and they struggled with memory recall over the course of the study. Collectively, these factors showed how participants’ thoughts can increase their risk of dementia. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings can serve as a helpful tool for those struggling with their mental health. 

“Understanding the factors that can increase the risk of dementia is vital in helping us improve our knowledge of this devastating condition and, where possible, developing prevention strategies,” said Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society. “The link shown between repeated negative thinking patterns and both cognitive decline and harmful deposits is interesting although we need to further investigation to understand this better.” 

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