Age-Related Memory Loss May Be Reversed By Keeping A Healthy And Positive Attitude About Aging, Study Finds


Having a positive attitude when it comes to aging may actually play a crucial role when it comes to age-related memory loss.

Researchers that conducted a new study that was published in JAMA Network Open found that individuals with mild cognitive impairment were 30 percent more likely to recover lost memory function if they maintained a positive outlook about getting older, as opposed to those with negative feelings.

Study co-author and professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, Becca Levy, PhD, said, “I think there is an assumption that people who develop mild cognitive impairment are inevitably going to get worse. Half the people who develop mild cognitive impairment improve and regain normal cognition.”

The study aimed to understand why some people with mild cognitive impairment experienced improvement while others did not.


Positive Thinkers Bounced Back Faster

The researchers analyzed data from approximately 1,700 individuals, averaging 78 years old, with either normal cognitive function or mild cognitive impairment. Participants underwent periodic memory assessments and completed surveys regarding their perspectives on aging.

Those with mild cognitive impairment and a positive outlook showed significantly faster memory recovery, enjoying an advantage of around two years compared to those with a negative outlook.

Additionally, participants with normal cognition and a positive attitude at the study’s outset were notably less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment over the 12-year follow-up period.

Cognitive Decline Is Often Reinforced By Depression and Social Isolation

However, the study had some limitations, with a higher occurrence of depression among individuals with a negative outlook, explained Dale Bredesen, MD, who is a professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles. Notably, he was not involved in the research.

Dr. Bredesen, who is also chief executive of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, says, “Depression is associated with systemic inflammation, which can drive cognitive decline.”

Meanwhile, the chief of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System and associate director of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Andre Budson, MD, also shares that it may be possible that more people with negative feelings about aging had Alzheimer’s disease, as well as those that experienced more noticeable challenges in their daily lives, shaped their outlook on getting older.

Dr. Budson, who wasn’t involved in the new study either, says, “People who have a positive attitude about aging have been shown to be more social and outgoing as well as more likely to take care of themselves by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, compared to those with a negative attitude about aging.”

“These activities — socializing, exercising, and eating a healthy diet — are protective against cognitive decline,” he adds.

A Healthy Lifestyle Can Help Keep the Mind Sharp As You Get Older

The findings of the study contribute to the growing body of evidence suggesting that staying physically fit and mentally active, maintaining a healthy diet, and fostering social connections within your community can significantly contribute to brain health as you age, explains an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at George Washington University in Washington, DC., Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD. Dr. Fotuhi was also not involved in the research of the study.

By doing these things, he explains, it can help during earlier adulthood and even in middle age, despite having a dim view of getting older.

“People who come to learn about the benefits of lifestyle modifications for improving brain functions during midlife are more likely to keep their bodies and their minds healthy as they age — regardless of their beliefs about what they may happen to them in their eighties and nineties,” Dr. Fotuhi says.