- Mild cognitive impairment involves increased difficulty in thinking and memory. Many older adults experience it, and it can increase someone’s risk for dementia.
- Researchers are still working to understand why some older adults experience recovery from mild cognitive impairment, and others do not.
- A study found that older adults with positive beliefs about aging were more likely to recover from mild cognitive impairment than those with negative beliefs about aging.
Everyone gets older, but beliefs about aging may play a key role in older adults’ mental well-being and cognition. A study published in JAMA Network Open explored how beliefs about aging influenced recovery from mild cognitive impairment.
Researchers found that those with positive aging beliefs were more likely to experience mild cognitive impairment improvements than those with negative aging beliefs.
More research is warranted to fully understand the roles of cultural beliefs on cognitive outcomes.
What is mild cognitive impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment has to do with declines in thinking and memory abilities. Older adults are at a higher risk for mild cognitive impairment.
Just because someone has mild cognitive impairment does not mean they will develop more serious cognitive disorders like dementia. However, mild cognitive impairment can increase the risk of dementia.
Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment include more frequently forgetting appointments or losing items more often.
People with mild cognitive impairment can undergo regular assessment and follow-up to monitor for improvements or more significant cognitive decline. Doctors can also run tests to determine if the mild cognitive impairment has a treatable underlying cause.
Psychiatrist and medical director at Neuro Wellness Spa, Dr. Simon Faynboym, not involved in the recent study, explained more about this condition to Medical News Today:
“MCI [mild cognitive impairment] is a concerning condition due to the effects it can have on an individual’s quality of life, and it may also indicate the early stages of degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. At times there are also psychological impacts due to MCI that may lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. The possibility that someone with MCI could develop dementia can be distressing, and it is important to have routine mental health check ups as you age.”
As the authors of this study note, some people recover from mild cognitive impairment. However, researchers still do not fully understand why.
Positive beliefs and cognitive health
In this particular cohort study, researchers wanted to look at how aging beliefs impacted mild cognitive impairment. Participants were already part of the Health and Retirement Study. Researchers looked at data from 1,716 participants.
All participants were at least age sixty-five or older and had completed a positive age-belief assessment. For this research, positive age beliefs were measured using data from a subscale of the Philadelphia Geriatric Morale Scale.
This subscale measures someone’s attitude toward aging. It includes questions like the following:
- “Do things keep getting worse as you get older?”
- “Do you feel that as you get older you are less useful?”
- “Are you as happy now as you were when you were younger?”
Each answer is scored, with a higher score indicating more positive views about aging and a lower score indicating more negative views about aging.
Researchers divided participants into two broad groups based on their scores: a positive age-belief group and a negative-age belief group. They then measured cognitive recovery by examining telephone interviews for cognitive status.
Researchers found that participants with positive-age beliefs at baseline were more likely to experience cognitive recovery from mild cognitive impairment. The amount of time for cognitive recovery was also shorter for participants with positive-age beliefs versus those with negative-age beliefs.
The study authors also conducted a secondary analysis that included participants with normal cognition at baseline. They found that people with positive age beliefs had a lower chance of developing mild cognitive impairment over the 12-year follow-up.
Study author and professor of public health and psychology Dr. Becca Levy explained the study’s key findings to MNT:
“[The] key goal in conducting this research was to examine if a culture-based factor, the age beliefs we assimilate from our culture, can impact cognitive recovery. We found that among those who have mild cognitive impairment, if they had taken in more positive age beliefs from the culture they were 30% more likely to regain cognition or return to normal cognition than those who had taken in more negative age beliefs from the culture.”
Study limitations and continued research
This study did have key limitations. First of all, researchers did not look at the mechanism of how positive age beliefs influence cognitive recovery.
Second, the study cannot establish a causal relationship between the factors examined. The data collected also relied on self-reporting about beliefs via a specific assessment, which has certain limitations.
There may also be limitations based on how researchers assessed mild cognitive impairment and cognitive recovery.
Dr. Fanyboym offered some words of caution about the study’s findings. “It is important to note that studies which infuse cultural ideals are rare and difficult to implement,” he told us.
“While the authors clearly state they did ‘not examine the mechanism of positive age beliefs in cognitive recovery,’ they did connect the dots allowing us to see through a scientific lens that the positive age-belief group statistically can experience cognitive recovery compared to the negative age belief group,” Dr. Fanyboym pointed out.
Overall, the study authors suggest fostering positive-age beliefs may be highly beneficial in improving cognitive function. Societies and individuals can begin to cultivate these beliefs.
Dr. Levy noted to MNT:
“As previous research has demonstrated that age beliefs can be modified, the findings suggest that age-belief interventions at the individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery.”
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