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Positive age beliefs may protect against dementia among high-risk older adults

Research published in PLOS One indicated that older adults who have positive beliefs about old age are less likely to develop dementia than those with negative age beliefs.

Healio, Feb 9, 2018

Among carriers of the APOE 4 variant, positive age beliefs were linked to almost a 50% lower risk for dementia.

"Considerable research has found that positive age beliefs predict better cognitive performance; whereas, negative age beliefs predict worse cognitive performance," Becca R. Levy, PhD, department of social and behavioral science, Yale School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. "The reduction of stress by positive age beliefs could potentially contribute to a lower incidence of dementia among older individuals in general and specifically among those with APOE 4."

Using survey data from a nationally representative sample of older Americans enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, researchers investigated whether positive age beliefs acquired from culture influence the risk for dementia over 4 years among older individuals, including those who carry the 4 variant of the gene APOE. The study included 4,765 adults aged 60 years or older and dementia-free at baseline, of which 26% were carriers of APOE 4. Researchers adjusted for age, education, race, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, APOE status and baseline cognitive performance.

Analysis showed that in the entire cohort, positive age beliefs at baseline lowered risk for dementia (RR = 0.81; 95% CI, 0.67-0.97) after adjusting for covariates. Participants with positive age beliefs had a 43.6% lower risk for dementia over 4 years compared with those with negative age beliefs (2.6% vs. 4.61%).

Among APOE 4 carriers, those with positive age beliefs at baseline had a 49.8% lower risk for dementia compared with those with negative age beliefs (2.17% vs. 6.14%) over 4 years. The researchers observed no significant difference between dementia incidence of the APOE 4 group who have positive age beliefs and those without APOE 4 who have positive or negative age beliefs. Regardless of age beliefs, dementia conversion rate of those with APOE 4 was 4.5% and 2.36% for those without.

"The current study provides evidence that a cultural construct, age beliefs, may contribute to the development of dementia in older individuals. Positive age beliefs among those with APOE 4 could be capable of helping to offset the influence of this genetic risk factor," Levy and colleagues wrote. "Our finding could provide a rationale for a public-health campaign to combat the societal sources of negative age beliefs." - by Savannah Demko

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