Research conducted by the Yale School of Public Health discovered that elderly individuals suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a prevalent form of memory loss, had a 30% higher chance of recovering their normal cognitive abilities if they held positive attitudes about aging from their cultural background, in contrast to those with negative aging attitudes.
Furthermore, the researchers identified that these affirmative views about aging also facilitated the study participants to regain their cognitive faculties up to two years earlier than those harboring pessimistic beliefs about aging. This cognitive recuperation benefit was observed irrespective of the baseline severity of MCI.
“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. That’s why we looked at positive age beliefs, to see if they would help provide an answer,” said Becca Levy, professor of public health and of psychology and lead author of the study.
Levy predicted that positive age beliefs could play an important role in cognitive recovery because her previous experimental studies with older persons found that positive age beliefs reduced the stress caused by cognitive challenges, increased self-confidence about cognition, and improved cognitive performance.
The new study is the first to find evidence that a culture-based factor — positive age beliefs — contributes to MCI recovery. The study was published in JAMA Network Open. Martin Slade, a biostatistician and lecturer in internal medicine at Yale, is co-author of the study.
Older persons in the positive age-belief group who started the study with normal cognition were less likely to develop MCI over the next 12 years than those in the negative age-belief group, regardless of their baseline age and physical health.
The National Institute on Aging funded this study. It had 1,716 participants aged 65 and above who were drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, a national longitudinal study.
“Our previous research has demonstrated that age beliefs can be modified; therefore, age-belief interventions at the individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery,” Levy said.
Reference: “Role of Positive Age Beliefs in Recovery From Mild Cognitive Impairment Among Older Persons” by Becca R. Levy and Martin D. Slade, 12 April 2023, JAMA Network Open.