Negative thinking may lead to dementia according to a new study - here’s what you need to know

This is what you need to know about the link between negative thoughts and dementia (Photo: Shutterstock)This is what you need to know about the link between negative thoughts and dementia (Photo: Shutterstock)
This is what you need to know about the link between negative thoughts and dementia (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study has found that long term negative thinking can increase the risk of dementia.

The research found that negative thinking is linked to harmful deposits in the brain of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia.

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This is everything you need to know about the study and how to think more positively.

What did the study say?

A study, led by University College London (UCL), found that “repetitive negative thinking is linked to subsequent cognitive decline as well as the deposition of harmful brain proteins linked to Alzheimer’s”.

Researchers say that repetitive negative thinking should be “further investigated as a potential risk factor for dementia”.

Lead author of the study, Dr Natalie Marchant, said: “Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia.

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“Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.”

She added: “Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase risk of dementia.”

How was the study conducted?

The study looked at 292 participants above the age of 55 over the course of two years.

The participants were given questionnaires to complete which asked questions about how they typically think about negative experiences, with a focus on repetitive negative thought patterns “like rumination about the past and worry about the future”.

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Measures of depression and anxiety symptoms were also taken into account.

The participants cognitive function was also assessed by measuring memory, attention, spatial cognition and language. Almost half of the participants also underwent PET brain scans.

These scans measured “deposits of tau and amyloid, two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain”.

The research found that those who exhibited higher repetitive negative thought patterns experienced more cognitive decline over a four year period, and declines in memory and that they were more likely to have amyloid and tau deposits in their brain.

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How to have more positive thoughts

Healthline offers the following advice to try and change your outlook and experience more positive thoughts:

  • Focus on the good things
  • Practice gratitude
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Open yourself up to humour
  • Spend time with positive people
  • Practice positive self talk
  • Identify your areas of negativity and tackle one area at a time
  • Start every day on a positive note, like a positive affirmation, listening to a happy song or by giving someone a compliment

What is dementia?

The NHS explains that dementia “is not a disease itself but rather a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain caused by different diseases, such as Alzheimer’s”.

Dementia is a syndrome which is associated with an ongoing decline of brain function.

People get confused with the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia - Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.

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What are the symptoms of dementia?

The NHS lists the following as common early symptoms of dementia to look out for:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or finding the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes

The NHS says: “These symptoms are often mild and may get worse only very gradually.”

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease includes:

  • Memory problems, like regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces
  • Asking questions repetitively
  • Increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require organisation and planning
  • Becoming confused in unfamiliar environments
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Difficulty with numbers and/or handling money in shops
  • Becoming more withdrawn and anxious

The NHS says: “Dementia is not a natural part of ageing.

“It’s important to talk to your GP sooner rather than later if you’re at all worried about memory problems or other symptoms.”

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How to treat dementia

Currently, there is no cure for dementia, but there are medicines and other treatments that have been developed to help with the symptoms of dementia.

The NHS states that the main medicines used to temporarily reduce symptoms are “Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors” and “memantine”.

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are medicines that prevent an enzyme from breaking down a substance called “acetylcholine” in the brain, which helps nerve cells communicate with each other.

Memantine, also known as namenda, works by blocking the effects of an excessive amount of a chemical in the brain called glutamate.

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There are also treatments available that don’t involve medicines, such as:

  • Cognitive stimulation therapy
  • Cognitive rehabilitation
  • Reminiscence and life story work

The NHS and other trained professionals are available to help with these treatments.