New research out of the UK suggests that persistently engaging in negative thinking patterns may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lead author of the study, Dr Natalie Marchant, from University College London (UCL) studied 360 adults over 55 for two years. She found that ‘repetitive negative thinking’ (RNT) is linked to subsequent cognitive decline as well as the deposition of harmful brain proteins linked with Alzheimer’s.
Study participants responded to questions about negative thinking patterns and completed measures of depression and anxiety symptoms.
Memory, attention, spatial cognition skills and language was assessed in all participants, and deposits of tau and amyloid (which cause Alzheimer’s when they build up) were measured using PET brain scans.
Can negative thinking hurt your brain?
Dr Marchant said that, ‘Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. 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.
‘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 the risk of dementia.
‘We hope that our findings could be used to develop strategies to lower people’s risk of dementia by helping them to reduce their negative thinking patterns.’
More research needed
Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, has qualified the research, emphasising ‘that this isn’t saying a short-term period of negative thinking will cause Alzheimer’s disease. Mental health could be a vital cog in the prevention and treatment of dementia; more research will tell us to what extent.
”Most of the people in the study were already identified as being at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so we would need to see if these results are echoed within the general population,’ said Ms Carragher.
‘Understanding the factors that can increase the risk of dementia is vital in helping us improve our knowledge of this devastating condition and, where possible, developing prevention strategies.’
Light at the end of the tunnel
Possible solutions to repetitive negative thinking include meditation/mindfulness training, and targeted talk therapy. Dr Marchant and other European researchers are currently working on a large project investigating which interventions work best.
The RNT and dementia study was published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, and can be read in full here.
No grumpy cats were harmed in this research.