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Having a Positive Attitude to Aging Could Help Reverse Cognitive Decline

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A new study suggests that people who have more positive attitudes towards aging are 30% more likely to recover from a state of cognitive decline thought to precede dementia.

Reversing cognitive decline

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that affects memory. MCI symptoms are common, affecting nearly a quarter of people aged 80 or over. The condition is commonly regarded as a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. But unlike Alzheimer’s, MCI can be reversible. In studies that repeatedly measured cognition from people aged over 65, roughly half of the people surveyed had MCI that reverted to normal cognition.

But scientists remain baffled by the steps and signs that might reverse MCI’s progress. A new study from the Yale School of Public Health has now found that older people with positive outlooks on aging are more likely to regain normal cognition after developing MCI as compared to those who saw aging in a negative light. The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Becca Levy, professor of public health and psychology at Yale and lead author of the study, said, “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.”

Looking forward to the future

Levy had forecast that pro-aging attitudes could assist efforts to reverse MCI based on previous work in older populations. These earlier studies showed that people who didn’t dread getting older were less stressed about developing cognition issues and had both improved confidence about the health of their minds and overall cognitive performance.

Many of these earlier findings were also seen in the new study – age-positive people were less likely to develop MCI if they were healthy when they recorded their first measurements. This group was also much faster to recover from MCI – reaching normal cognition two years earlier than age-negative comparators.

The study highlights the role that cultural outlooks can have on health in later life. “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 concluded.


Reference: Levy BR, Slade MD. Role of positive age beliefs in recovery from mild cognitive impairment among older persons. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(4):e237707. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.7707


 This article is a rework of a press release issued by Yale University. Material has been edited for length and content.