In a new study, researchers found that persistently engaging in negative thinking patterns may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
They found ‘repetitive negative thinking’ (RNT) is linked to subsequent cognitive decline as well as the deposition of harmful brain proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.
The researchers say RNT should now be further investigated as a potential risk factor for dementia, and psychological tools, such as mindfulness or meditation, should be studied to see if these could reduce dementia risk.
The research was conducted by a team at UCL and elsewhere.
Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia.
In the study, the research team studied 292 people over the age of 55 and a further 68 people.
Over two years, the study participants responded to questions about how they typically think about negative experiences, focusing on RNT patterns like rumination about the past and worry about the future.
The participants also completed measures of depression and anxiety symptoms.
Their cognitive function was assessed, measuring memory, attention, spatial cognition, and language.
Some (113) of the participants also underwent PET brain scans, measuring deposits of tau and amyloid, two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain.
The researchers found that people who exhibited higher RNT patterns experienced more cognitive decline over a four-year period, and declines in memory (which is among the earlier signs of Alzheimer’s disease), and they were more likely to have amyloid and tau deposits in their brain.
Depression and anxiety were linked to subsequent cognitive decline but not with either amyloid or tau deposition, suggesting that RNT could be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease risk.
The researchers suggest that RNT may contribute to Alzheimer’s risk via its impact on indicators of stress such as high blood pressure, as other studies have found that physiological stress can contribute to amyloid and tau deposition.
Mental training practices such as meditation might help to promote positive- while down-regulating negative-associated mental schemes.
One author of the study is Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry).
The study is published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
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