Ageism certainly has its effects on our society, from the mental and emotional health of seniors to discriminatory action in housing and social policy. Now, new research suggests that ageism even influences the risk of developing dementia.
Older people who maintain a positive attitude about aging will have lower dementia risks, according to the study led by the Yale School of Public Health. This held true even among those who have a gene putting them at greater risk of developing dementia.
In fact, seniors with the ε4 variant of the APOE gene – one of the strongest risk factors for developing dementia – who focus on the benefits of aging as opposed to the negatives were about 50% less likely to develop the disease than their peers with opposing attitudes. The study is the first to look at the relationship between culture-based age beliefs and dementia risks.
“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 psychology. “This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism, which is a source of negative age beliefs.”
The study examined a group of 4,765 people with an average age of 72 over four years. All were dementia-free at the start of the research, and 26% carried the APOE ε4 gene. They were required to fill out a questionnaire indicating their agreement or disagreement with statements such as, “The older I get, the more useless I feel.”
Those with the gene who held positive beliefs about aging had a 2.7% risk of developing dementia, according to the findings, as compared with a 6.1% risk for those who maintained negative beliefs.
These results may stem from the idea that negative age beliefs can exaggerate stress, the researchers speculated. Meanwhile, positive age beliefs can diminish the effects of stress. Various studies show that stress may be one of several dementia risks.
“The results of the study suggest that positive age beliefs, which are modifiable and have been found to reduce stress, can act as a protective factor, even for older adults at high risk of dementia,” the researchers said.