Positive Views on Aging Can Sharpen Your Mind and Boost Health and Happiness
New research links cognitive decline to negative perspectives on growing old, adding to other evidence for the power of positivity
Every time I walk into a room and can’t remember why. Every time I misplace my glasses. Every time I can’t come up with a word I know I know. I wonder: Have I begun to lose my mind for real?
I know better. Minor mental lapses now and then are normal, and not everyone gets dementia — about 10% of U.S. seniors have it. Still, the idea that cognitive skills might eventually decline can fuel anxiety as the years roll by. Pharmaceutical companies and supplement hucksters prey on this worry by promising dubious fixes in pill form.
New research suggests a natural, cost-free way to help maintain thinking skills, one that individuals of all ages, and society as a whole, would be wise to lean into:
Think positively about the aging process.
The new study, however, had a narrow focus: Could a positive view on aging improve mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
MCI is marked by an increased tendency to forget appointments, lose keys, struggle to come up with the right words, or other such lapses. Unlike dementia, MCI doesn’t involve personality changes or other more serious or dramatic consequences. Causes can include diabetes, stroke, depression, or simply the consequences of genetics and aging. MCI, which affects somewhere between 12% and 18% of people 60 and older, can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s and other dementias, but it does not always predict such outcomes.
“Most people assume there is no recovery from MCI, but in fact half of those who have it do recover,” said Becca Levy, PhD, a professor of public health and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health. “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.”