APRIL 19, 2023

Older adults with cognitive impairment are more likely to regain normal cognition if they hold positive beliefs about aging, according to the results of a new study.

A Yale School of Public Health study published in JAMA Network Open also found that positive beliefs helped participants recover their cognition up to two years earlier than their peers with negative beliefs. The study included 1,716 participants drawn from the Health and Retirement Study.

“Most people assume there is no recovery from MCI, but in fact half of those who have it do recover. Little is known about why some recover while others don’t,” Becca Levy, PhD, Yale professor of public health and psychology and lead author, said in a statement. “That’s why we looked at positive age beliefs, to see if they would help provide an answer.”

Positive age beliefs, the researchers found, lowered the stress of cognitive challenges, boosted self-confidence about cognition, and enhanced cognitive performance. The positive age-belief group had a 30.2% greater likelihood of memory recovery than the negative age-belief group. The study is the first to find evidence that positive age beliefs contribute to memory recovery.

Older adults in the positive age belief group who started the study with normal cognition were less likely to develop cognitive impairments over the next 12 years than those in the negative age-belief group, regardless of age and physical health.

“Considering that positive age beliefs can be strengthened, our findings suggest that age-belief interventions at individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery,” the authors concluded. 

Mild cognitive impairment affects between 12% and 18% of older adults and can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The National Institute on Aging funded the study.


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