Recently, a new collaborative study by researchers from University College London, McGill University in Canada, and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France shows that thinking negatively consistently increases the risk of cognitive decline and eventually developing various forms of dementia later in life.
According to the researchers, the new investigation can now pave the way for examining repetitive negative thinking or RNT as an independent risk factor for dementia as well as the effectiveness of various treatment methods including mindfulness activities such as yoga and exercise to tackle the issue early in life.
Dr. Natalie Marchant from UCL Psychiatry, who was the leading author of the paper, explained the findings of the research, saying:
“Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.”
Marchant further added that the paper examines the effect of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in combination with certain patterns of thinking negatively.
The findings, which are published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, only suggest that consistency in patterns of negative thinking with other problems can contribute to dementia. Short-term negative thinking was not found to have an association with cognitive decline later in life.
To investigate on the link between repetitive negative thinking and dementia risk, the researchers assessed data from two different studies, the PREVENT-AD cohort study, and the IMAP+ cohort.
The first study included around two hundred and ninety-two participants while the second had sixty-eight participants, all of whom were aged fifty-five and over.
During the first two years of the research, the participants were asked different questions on negative responses, thinking, and experiences.
The researchers also looked out for signs associated with repetitive negative thinking patterns such as constantly worrying about future events or recalling experiences from the past.
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Secondly, the participants were also asked and checked for having signs of mental health issues including depressive episodes and anxiety.
Thirdly, the researchers examined the cognitive health of participants while focusing specifically on spatial cognition, language, memory, and attention span. Out of the total number of participants, at least one hundred and thirteen also underwent PET brain scans.
PETS brain scans are used to diagnose the buildup of two types of proteins, amyloid, and tau, which are typically associated with an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most prevalent form of dementia.
The researchers then discovered that people who were seen to engage in repetitive negative thinking had deposits of both amyloid and tau in their brain as well as more cognitive decline.
In addition, these participants also experienced issues with memory including memory loss, which is usually counted as one of the very early signs of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Having mental health issues including both anxiety and depression also worsened cognitive problems in people with higher repetitive negative thinking patterns. However, both did not contribute to dementia-causing proteins in the brain.
This means that negative thinking was the primary reason both mental health issues contributed to cognitive decline as well as dementia risk in the participants.
According to the researchers, negative thoughts may contribute to the risk of having dementia due to their link with the effects of having increased stress such as high blood pressure since previous studies have concluded that psychological stress contributes to tau and amyloid buildup.
The findings show the need for taking care of mental health as chronic stress, disorders, and negative thinking can significantly increase the risk of other health issues not only temporarily but also in the long-term.