According to LA Times, a new study finds that people who were inclined to believe that older people were slower, unhappier and less sharp than the rest of us are more likely — when, decades later, they become older themselves — to exhibit the brain changes seen in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, conducted by the Yale School of Public Health, suggests that Alzheimer’s could be beaten by combatting negative beliefs about getting old – such as elderly people are decrepit.
Lead researcher Becca Levy, associate professor of public health and psychology, has linked for the first time Alzheimer’s-related brain changes with cultural-based fear of the elderly.
She said: “We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about ageing that individuals sometimes internalize from the society that can result in pathological brain changes.
“Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realise that these negative beliefs about ageing can be mitigated and positive beliefs about ageing can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable.”
Using healthy, dementia-free subjects, the researchers found that those who think more negatively about the signs of ageing showed a greater decline in the area of the brain crucial to memory – the first place where the degenerative brain disease strikes.
Miami Herald noted, in an earlier study Levy conducted, people exposed to negative beliefs about aging had an increased heart rate and blood pressure response when talking about stressful events in their life.
Positive age stereotypes, on the other hand, can act as a buffer for stress, she said. Studies have shown that stress can contribute to pathological changes in the brain.
“Children as young as 4 take in the stereotypes of their culture,” she said. “It would be great to start quite young, in kindergarten or even pre-K, to start reinforcing positive stereotypes, bringing older role models into classrooms.”
The finding could also change the way scientists interpret culture-related Alzheimer’s disease data. Whereas the difference in the diet has been suggested as an explanation for why the Alzheimer’s rate in the United States is five times that of India, the discrepancy might alternatively be explained by a cultural comparison, the paper said, noting that “India has a tradition of venerating elders. . .whereas the United States has a prevalence of negative age stereotypes.”
Old people are distracted and crabby. No wonder.