HomeHealthBrain healthMild cognitive impairment recovery: All in the mind?

Mild cognitive impairment recovery: All in the mind?

There’s an old saying, attributed to Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Whether or not the founder of the Ford Motor Company actually uttered those words, they’re good ones to live by. And now there’s some new research to back it up. A new study has shown that those who hold positive thoughts about ageing are more likely to recover from mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

‘Mild cognitive impairment’ is an all-encompassing term, meaning slightly different things to different medical practitioners. America’s Mayo Clinic describes it as “the stage between the expected decline in memory and thinking that happens with age and the more serious decline of dementia”.

Dementia Australia’s definition is a little bit different. “MCI is generally defined as significant memory loss without the loss of other cognitive functions,” according to its website.

Mild cognitive impairment does not always lead to dementia, and research shows that maintaining a positive attitude may play a part in prevention. At the very least, the new study indicates that a positive approach to ageing helps in recovering from MCI.

Conducted by Yale University’s Becca Levy and Martin Slade, the study looked at 1716 participants (953 women and 763 men). The participants had all been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

Dr Levy and Mr Slade used what is known as the Philadelphia Geriatric Morale Scale to assess the participants’ attitudes. The scale is based on a series of statements provided to participants.

“The older I get, the more useless I feel” and “Things keep getting worse as I get older” are two examples.

A positive score

Each participant is asked how strongly they agree or disagree with the statements, with the answers used to create a score. The researchers “dichotomized the scores at the age-belief median splitting groups based on positive (<15) and negative (≥15) age beliefs”.

Dr Levy and Mr Slade then measured the participants’ cognitive recovery, defined here as “the first transition from MCI to normal cognition”.

Participants with a more positive approach to ageing achieved results on two fronts. First, the positive age-belief group had a 30.2 per cent greater likelihood of recovery than the negative age-belief group. And second, among those participants who did recover, those with positive age beliefs had a faster transition from MCI to normal cognition.

Cautiously optimistic

The confirmation of this correlation is a step towards greater understanding of mild cognitive impairment. More research will be required to further that understanding and put it towards treatments of prevention and/or cure.

Psychiatrist and medical director at Neuro Wellness Spa, Dr. Simon Faynboym, points out the limitations of using “cultural ideal” surveys.

“It is important to note that studies which infuse cultural ideals are rare and difficult to implement,” he says.

Indeed, Dr Levy and Mr Slade acknowledge the limitations of their own study: “We did not examine the mechanism of positive age beliefs in cognitive recovery.”

Learning those mechanisms could provide researchers with improved treatments in time, but the results of the study are insightful, nonetheless.

Not everyone can simply ‘flick a switch’ and instantaneously change their attitude from negative to positive. But, knowing its potential for aiding in recovery from of mild cognitive impairment, a positive attitude is worth striving for.

Do you think attitude can help your health? Do you make an effort to stay positive? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: ‘Slowing down’ may be a warning sign of something more sinister: late-life dementia

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


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