Persistent negative thoughts may increase risk of Alzheimer's disease but meditation may help, new study shows
As per the study, repetitive negative thoughts were linked with two Alzheimer's features: a decline in mental abilities and an increase in harmful brain proteins that causes the degenerative disease
If you find yourself having persistent negative thoughts, chances are that you may develop dementia in the future. According to a new study, people showing pessimistic thinking patterns may have a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease -- a condition that affects memory and other mental functions. In this study, repetitive negative thoughts were linked with two Alzheimer's features: a decline in mental abilities and an increase in harmful brain proteins that causes the degenerative disease. More than five million Americans are living with the condition. By 2050, this number is projected to reach nearly 14 million, according to the Alzheimer's Association, a non-profit organization.
"We expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one's risk of dementia," lead author Dr Natalie Marchant from University College London Psychiatry, said. "We hope that our findings could be used to develop strategies to lower people's risk of dementia by helping them to reduce their negative thinking patterns," she added. Earlier studies have suggested that depression is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. In this study, scientists set out to understand the connection between mental health disorders and dementia. The team studied 350 people over the age of 55 to understand if thinking patterns associated with depression and anxiety could put people at higher risk for dementia.
The volunteers responded to questions about negative experiences. They asked whether they mulled over the past and worried about the future. Along with measuring signs of depression and anxiety, the researchers also tested mental functions such as memory, attention, spatial cognition, and language. Additionally, they also looked at scans to check for harmful brain proteins linked to Alzheimer's disease: amyloid and tau deposits.
Brain scans showed that pessimistic people are more likely to have the two dangerous proteins deposits in the brain. These people also experienced more declines in memory -- among the earlier signs of Alzheimer's disease. Further analysis showed that people suffering from depression and anxiety were more likely to experience the impairment, thereby supporting previous studies on the topic.
"We propose that repetitive negative thinking maybe a new risk factor for dementia as it could uniquely contribute to dementia", Dr Marchant said. The study underlines the need for mental health care. Fiona Carragher from Alzheimer's Society, said: "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." She added that the link between repeated negative thinking patterns and both cognitive decline and harmful deposits was interesting. "Mental health could be a vital cog in the prevention and treatment of dementia; more research will tell us to what extent," she noted.
Next, the researchers will explore solutions to repeating negative thinking. According to the study co-author, Dr Gael Chételat from the Université de Caen-Normandie, mental training practices such as meditation might help promote positive thinking. The researchers will now study if mindfulness training or targeted talk therapy, could reduce pessimistic thoughts, and thereby reduce the risk of dementia.
The study is published in Alzheimer's & Dementia.