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Good News: Positive thinking improves memory loss

BY Miriam Sallon

14th Apr 2023 Good News

Good News: Positive thinking improves memory loss

A new study shows that a positive attitude about ageing can help recover mild memory loss

People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are 30 per cent more likely to reverse symptoms if they think positively about ageing, according to a study carried out by the Yale School of Public Health

The study was conducted over twelve years and involved 1,716 participants aged 65 and above.  

MCI is usually considered a one-way process, but according to Professor Becca Levy, lead author of the study, that’s not the case at all, “Most people assume there is no recovery from MCI, but in fact half of those who have it do recover.” 

What is MCI 

Mild cognitive impairment is a condition which causes memory loss and difficulty in thinking clearly. Symptoms might include forgetting events, or often losing things. Other more physical symptoms such as a loss of smell or spatial perception have also been linked to MCI. 

It is mostly diagnosed in people over 60, and often leads to Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. 

Results 

The study was conducted over a twelve-year period between 2008-2020, with seven data collection waves performed every two years. 

"Those who came to the study without MCI were also far less likely to develop it if they felt more age-positive"

Results showed that those who came to the study with MCI were 30 per cent more likely to make a full recovery if they were upbeat about ageing. They were also likely to recover two years faster than those with more negative age beliefs (such as “The older I get, the more useless I feel”). 

Those who came to the study without MCI were also far less likely to develop it if they felt more age-positive, regardless of their physical health or age. 

Breaking new ground  

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Factors such as age, race and gender have previously been examined for links to recovery, but this is the first study to look at cultural factors- in this case, beliefs about ageing. 

"Given how well this research has gone, hopefully future studies will show the “why”"

While the study definitely yielded positive results, it’s still not known exactly why. “A limitation is that we did not examine the mechanism of positive age beliefs in cognitive recovery”, says Levy. 

Given how well this research has gone, hopefully future studies will show the “why”, as well as looking at other cultural factors. 

Further study 

A previous study, also led by Levy, showed that physical function, as well as stress levels and self-confidence could be improved with positive thinking.

"Age-belief interventions at the individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery"

That being the case, it also seems possible that altering age beliefs could help MCI recovery or stave it off altogether. “Our previous research has demonstrated that age beliefs can be modified; therefore, age-belief interventions at the individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery,” Levy said. 

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