A new study claims people who think negatively about getting older are more likely to experience changes in the brain that could lead to dementia.

There’s no point stressing about getting older or thinking it’s going to be all doom and gloom. In fact, doing so could increase your risk of dementia. That’s what academics from Yale University are claiming.

A recent study looked at MRI scans of people who had their brains scanned once a year for 10 years in the long-running study of ageing (Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Ageing). The individuals were asked how much they agreed with negative statements about growing old including ageing stereotypes.

Questions included whether they considered the elderly as absent-minded or grouchy and whether people become less useful as they get older.

The study found those with more negative beliefs about ageing had a greater decline over the 10 year period in the volume of their brain’s hippocampus, which is critical to memory, and also an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s thought it’s the action of stress that can be damaging to the brain, and while it’s easier said than done, the best thing you can do is to embrace ageing and try to think positively about it.

Becca Levy, associate professor of public health and psychology, said: ‘We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about ageing that individuals sometimes internalize from society which can result in pathological brain changes.’

However, Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, believes the situation may be more complex than this.

‘We know that some of the early changes associated with Alzheimer’s can happen 10-15 years before symptoms show and while the researchers tried to account for this, it’s hard to know whether these early changes had a knock-on effect on people’s social behaviours and attitudes or vice versa.

‘This study did not measure stress levels in the volunteers, but ongoing research is looking at the role that stress could play in diseases like Alzheimer’s. It’s also possible for people’s attitudes towards age to be influenced by other developing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or depression, which could themselves be having an impact on the brain. It’s important to unpick the complex factors influencing brain health into older age in order to develop approaches to help people maintain their health and independence in later life.’

For more tips on reducing your risk of memory loss in your 30s, 40s and 50s, click the links.