Older adults who acquired positive beliefs about old age from their surrounding culture are less likely to develop dementia, according to a Yale study. Those with positive age beliefs had a 2.60% risk of developing dementia, compared to the 4.61% risk for those with negative age beliefs, during the four-year study period.
The study was by Becca Levy from the Yale School of Public Health and colleagues.
The E4 variant of the gene APOE has previously been identified as a high-risk factor for dementia. However, only 47% of APOE E4 carriers develop dementia. The reason the remaining 53% never develop dementia is unknown.
Levy and colleagues investigated whether culture-based age beliefs influence the risk of developing dementia among older people, including those who carry the high-risk gene variant. The researchers studied a group of 4,765 people, with an average age of 72 years, who were free of dementia at the start of the study – 26% of the participants in the study were carriers of APOE E4.
Over the four-year study duration, the researchers found that APOE E4 carriers with positive beliefs about aging had a 2.7% risk of developing dementia, compared to a 6.1% risk for those with negative beliefs about aging.
“We found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors of dementia,” said Levy. “This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism and negative age beliefs.”
One of the strongest risk factors for dementia is the ε4 variant of the APOE gene. Yet, many who carry it never develop dementia. The current study examined for the first time whether positive age beliefs that are acquired from the culture may reduce the risk of developing dementia among older individuals, including those who are APOE ε4 carriers. The cohort consisted of 4,765 Health and Retirement Study participants who were aged 60 or older and dementia-free at baseline. As predicted, in the total sample those with positive age beliefs at baseline were significantly less likely to develop dementia, after adjusting for relevant covariates. Among those with APOE ε4, those with positive age beliefs were 49.8% less likely to develop dementia than those with negative age beliefs. The results of this study suggest that positive age beliefs, which are modifiable and have been found to reduce stress, can act as a protective factor, even for older individuals at high risk of dementia.
Becca R Levy, Martin D Slade, Robert H Pietrzak, Luigi Ferrucci
[link url="http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0191004"]PLOS One abstract[/link]