Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have been receiving increased study, as a result of the growing demographic of elders in the population. The research has resulted in a greater understanding of the causes and treatments for these conditions. A recent study from the United Kingdom has placed a focus on how repetitive negative thinking can increase the risk for dementia and what can be done to counteract this problem that occurs so frequently in older adults.
Recent Study Links Negative Thinking To Cognitive Decline
A new study from the University College London has found the repetitive negative thinking patterns (RNT) can have a damaging effect on the brain that is associated with higher risk for dementia. This finding supports previous research that links depression and anxiety in the elderly with higher rates of dementia. The study suggests that chronic negative thinking can cause the accumulation of damaging proteins, which can lead to cognitive decline.
Understanding Negative Thinking
Negative events happen to everyone in the course of their lives. However, older individuals may experience more severe problems, such as deaths of loved ones or health problems that can make them feel hopeless about their current lives and what will happen in the future. The events may become magnified in their minds, causing them significant stress. When these negative thoughts become repetitive and occur over a period of time, the brain develops abnormal structures that interfere with cognitive function. They may react with memory problems, personality changes and other symptoms associated with dementia.
Depression and Anxiety Are Common in the Elderly
Older individuals often suffer from depression or anxiety. Some may have inherited factors that contribute to these issues, but others experience them as a result of dealing with common stresses of getting older. These conditions can lead to negative thinking patterns that repeat continually, which can have an effect on cognitive function. Having dementia can, in itself, lead to increased stress and depression, which increases the severity of symptoms. Treating these problems and preventing negative thinking from taking hold may be an effective way to prevent the symptoms of worsening cognitive decline.
Tau Proteins and Amyloid Deposits
New technologies have enabled medical researchers to detect changes in the brain of individuals who are experiencing dementia. They have found that these individuals have increased amounts of certain proteins that seem to interfere with normal brain processes. Tau proteins are biochemical components that help to stabilize the internal structures of nerves in the brain. In types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, these tau proteins become altered and cause the internal structure of the nerve to collapse. Another brain protein, called beta-amyloid, is an important component in how brain cells function. This protein may begin to form clusters, called “plaques,” that interfere with normal cognitive function. The London study found that both of these changes in brain structure appear to occur in individuals who are engaged in repetitive negative thinking.
Maintaining A Positive Viewpoint
The damaging effects of negative thinking occur because it can be difficult to break out of the pattern. The fears and worry take on larger and larger aspects, which increases stress reactions. However, individuals can learn to intervene in this process, by using a variety of mental exercises. Meditation and mindfulness training can help people stay in the moment, instead of stewing about events in the past or fears about what may happen in the future. Staying engaged in daily activities, social interactions with others and developing curiosity about the world around you can help to improve thought patterns and the brain chemistry that accompanies thinking. This proactive approach can help maintain good brain function in the later years.
An Attitude of Gratitude
Regardless of the negative events that sometimes occur in life, individuals with a positive outlook manage to find something good in every event and every encounter in every day. Routinely, these individuals sustain an “attitude of gratitude,” which helps them to find the positive effect that comes out of every experience. For some people a positive mindset comes naturally, but for others, this strategy must be learned through active effort. They can learn a habit of gratitude by proactively looking for the positive aspects in daily life. You can begin this process by being grateful for both small things and larger things, such as the beauty of a sunny day or a snowy day. You can appreciate the care you receive, the people in your life and the activities you enjoy. You can be mindful of every event and emotion that occurs in your days. There are endless opportunities to find positive aspects in life if you actively look for them, which will help you, develop healthier brain chemistry and better cognitive function.
A number of aspects of life related to aging can be difficult. Older individuals may be faced with a number of experiences, such as loss of a spouse, failing health or changes in their environment that can lead to negative thinking. However, efforts to help them rise above these experiences can be critical to maintaining good mental health and function.