General Health Archives - Medwest

Positive thinking about aging may be lowering our risk of dementia

A study from the United States has found older adults with a positive attitude towards ageing may be less likely to develop dementia, even if they are genetically predisposed to it.

Yale University researchers studied a group of more than 4,000 adults aged 60 and above and found those who held positive beliefs about ageing had a 44 per cent lower risk of developing dementia (even if they were at a higher risk) compared to those who held negative beliefs.

The risk was even lower among people with a genetic predisposition to the condition.

The study, suggests that positive age beliefs may act as a protective factor against dementia, supporting the case for a public health campaign against ageism.

Dr Becca Levy and her colleagues at Yale School of Public Health recruited 4,765 American adults with an average age of 72 who did not currently have dementia.

The first step of the research was to assess the participants’ attitudes towards ageing then assessing them every two years on a range of cognitive skills to determine whether they had developed dementia.

Participants’ beliefs about ageing were assessed using an “Attitude toward Ageing” scale, in which they were asked about the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “The older I get, the more useless I feel”.

If somebody strongly agreed with that statement, they would be given a score that suggests they have a more negative belief about ageing. But if they disagreed, then they would receive a score that indicates a positive view of ageing.

To assess the potential effects of the study on people genetically predisposed to dementia, 26 per cent of people included in the sample were carriers of the APOE-e4 gene variant, one of the strongest risk factors for dementia; affecting one fifth of Australia’s population.

Researchers found overall that participants who had positive beliefs about ageing had a 43.6 per cent lower risk of developing dementia over the course of four years, compared to those holding negative beliefs.

The difference was even more significant for those with the APOE-e4 gene variant with those who had positive beliefs having a 49.8 per cent lower risk of developing dementia compared to their high-risk counterparts holding negative beliefs.

The results took account of other factors that could influence the findings, including age, education, sex, race, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and baseline cognitive performance.

Stress may explain why as studies suggest the mechanism by which age beliefs may influence the development of dementia is likely to involve stress. as it was found that individuals who had more positive age beliefs had lower stress levels. It was also shown that those who have more negative age stereotypes seem to have an exacerbated response to stress.

It has been found that stress can be related to the development of dementia so its possible that stress plays a major role in the findings of the study.

However the results should be interpreted with some caution because the diagnostic tool used to identify patients with dementia — a short telephone interview — was not the gold standard for diagnosing dementia.

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Understanding and Managing How Stress Works

Stress effects many people in many different ways, but its important to understand how it works, why it happens and how to manage it. That way, you can spend less time worrying and more time enjoying life.

Although it’s a normal healthy response we have to certain situations and in some ways a small amount may actually help us through a brief difficult moment and even allow us to perform under pressure.

In a heightened state of stress our body goes into something called fight or flight mode. In this state the body’s nervous system causes a chemical response in our adrenal glands and produces an excess amount of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol; preparing us for a potentially life threating situation where we may just have to fight or flee.

Our bodies were originally designed this way to protect us from dangerous situations or  animals but it is not often these days for most of us that we are fending off wild creatures, never the less, this system is still in place and protects us from any dangers we may face today.

In this day and age though most of us would say that the most common stressors are work, relationship, family, financial and societal pressures we face on a regular basis. These stressors do tend to build up along with our stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Most of us can say we have experienced occasional heightened states of stress but what we don’t realise is that increased stress hormones in the body are becoming the norm.

Increased adrenaline and cortisol levels can have affect our immune, digestive, cardiovascular and muscular systems, not to mention our overall general well-being, or in this case, not well-being. Stress can also be a cause of poor sleep, which then causes more stress, and as you see the cycle can be endless.

Although there seems to be endless causes to stress, there are also plenty of ways we can de-stress our bodies. Simply taking a little time each day for ourselves can have a big impact, as well as practicing meditation and exercise, as these methods are proven by science to reduce stress and improve well-being.

Another fantastic and proven way of de-stressing our bodies is through massage. It is an hour of feel good you time! Not only does massage promote the relaxation of skeletal muscle, the parts of our bodies which do all the work, take all the tension and carry us around every day. Massage promotes production of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

If you’ve been needing to relax, come and visit one of our friendly Physios for a massage 🙂

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