Harvard Men's Health Watch

Negative views of aging linked with increased risk of Alzheimer's

A negative attitude about aging appears to be associated with a higher likelihood of Alzheimer's disease.

A study in the journal Psychology and Aging examined healthy, dementia-free subjects from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the nation's longest-running scientific study of aging.

The participants completed a survey when they were enrolled in the study that highlighted their attitudes toward aging. They were asked if they agreed with negative statements, such as "Old people are absent-minded" and "Old people can't learn new things." Their brains were then examined two ways: MRI scans taken over 10 years, and postmortem studies of the brains of 74 participants who died an average of 20 years later.

The MRI scans showed that those who held more negative beliefs about aging showed a greater decline in the volume of the hippocampus (a part of the brain crucial to memory), which is an indicator of Alzheimer's. The postmortem brain studies found those with greater negative attitudes had more beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, both hallmarks of the disease. It is still unclear if certain thoughts can induce brain changes, but these results suggest a path for future prevention treatments.