Thinking negatively isn’t helping your brain at all.
Repetitive negative thinking can be harmful, as a new study found that such thinking patterns might be linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, said repetitive negative thinking – or RNT – was linked to cognitive decline as well the deposition to harmful proteins linked to Alzheimer’s. Researchers from the University College London said that the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, happens when thinking patterns are more long-term rather than short-term negative thinking.
For the study, researchers had nearly 300 participants over the age of 55 complete questionnaires based on how they think about negative experiences. Over the course of two years, researchers measured other factors like depression and anxiety symptoms, while cognitive functions were measured through memory, attention span, spatial cognition, and language. Researchers also had a group of participants take PET brain scans, measuring two proteins – tau and amyloid – which cause dementia when they start in the brain.
The study found that over a four-year period, participants who had higher RNT patterns suffered higher cognitive decline, as well as declines in memory. Those participants also were more likely to have deposits of amyloid and tau in their brains. Additionally, depression and anxiety contributed to cognitive decline.
“Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia,” said lead author Dr. Natalie Marchant of the University College London, via Medical Xpress. “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.”
Fiona Carragher, the chief policy and research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society in London, said further research is needed to understand the link between RNT patterns and cognitive decline.
“Most of the people in the study were already identified as being at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so we would need to see if these results are echoed within the general population and if repeated negative thinking increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease itself,” Carragher said.
Dr. Gael Chételat of INSERM and the Université de Caen-Normandie added that watching your mental health is pivotal as it could potentially impact your risk of dementia.
“Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health, which might be positive or negative,” said Chételat. “Mental training practices, such as meditation, might help promoting positive thoughts, while down-regulating negative-associated mental schemes.
“Looking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia.”