Staying Positive About Aging Can Help with Memory

Staying Positive About Aging Can Help with Memory

The power of positivity can lift people to new heights. This energy can help anyone work toward big goals and dreams. It turns out that when this attitude is the center of how someone views aging, it can help with their memory.

A recent study found that older adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment with positive beliefs about aging are likelier to return to their usual functioning. Authored by the School of Public Health, researchers also discovered that this recovery could happen up to two years earlier than those who have a more negative outlook on life. [1]

The positive approach offers benefits regardless of the mild cognitive impairment baseline severity.

The Study Included Over 1,700 People Over Age 65

“Little is known about why some [people] recover while others do not,” said Dr. Becca Levy, lead author of the study and a professor focusing on public health and psychology. [2]

“Most people assume there is no recovery from mild cognitive impairment, but half of those who have it do recover. That’s why we looked at positive age beliefs to see if they would help provide an answer.”

Those who adopt positive beliefs about aging from their culture are 30% more likely to regain normal cognition after mild cognitive impairment compared to those who took negative thoughts from their environment.

Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment include lost keys, forgotten appointments, and a struggle to find the right words. Unlike dementia, this issue doesn’t involve personality changes or serious consequences. Causes can include treatable conditions, including diabetes and depression.

It can also reflect the consequences of aging and genetics.

“We found that those who have taken in more positive age beliefs were significantly less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment,” said Levy. “If, however, they developed mild cognitive impairment, the positive age beliefs acted as a resource to help them cognitively recover.”

Although the study doesn’t prove causation, the thought is that a positive outlook on life leads to lower stress levels and improved health behaviors. When those elements are present in a person’s life, they can help improve cognitive performance.

Aging is often spoken of as a disease. Exercising, eating healthy foods, and having a solid purpose in life promote a healthier aging mind while lowering dementia development risks.

“Most people don’t realize they hold preconceptions about aging, yet everyone, everywhere, does,” said Levy.

How to Take a More Positive Approach to Life

Levy suggests thinking of an older adult, either real or imagined, and writing down the first five phrases or words that come to mind.

“If you’re like most people, the chances are your list includes at least a few negatives,” Levy said.

You can use this information as the foundation for change in your life. Most people are unaware of their negative approach to circumstances because the attitude was part of their upbringing.

“Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all linked,” said Dr. Rachel Goldman, a clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine. “Our thoughts impact how we feel and act. Although we all have unhelpful thoughts from time to time, it’s important to know what to do when they appear so that we don’t let them change the course of our day.” [3]

Everyone is different, but there are some common ways that negative thoughts can be recognized so that your patterns can start changing.

  • Use mindfulness to build self-awareness of the negative thoughts, then look for a positive alternative to what you’ve recognized.
  • Identify specific situations or circumstances where negativity triggers occur to begin avoiding them.
  • Replace unrealistic thoughts with something more relevant while maintaining a positive perspective.
  • Instead of trying to self-criticize when negative thoughts occur, practice acceptance while learning to cope with feedback.

Using a diary to track your thoughts and emotions can be constructive. Even if you don’t reflect on your writing, the effort to pour yourself out onto paper or an online document can be a therapeutic experience.

“Become aware of how your thoughts are impacting your emotions and behaviors,” said Goldman. “Observe your thoughts. Ask yourself if this thought is helpful? What purpose is the thought serving you? How does it make you feel?”

This process can start at any age. Further research is necessary to see if the power of positivity is cumulative as people get older.

“I think the hopeful message of this study is that those who had taken in more positive age beliefs from their society were significantly more likely to show cognitive recovery,” Levy said. “This suggests that efforts to reduce ageism on a societal level and to promote positive age beliefs could have benefits.”


[1] https://robertroybritt.medium.com/positive-views-on-aging-can-sharpen-your-mind-and-boost-health-and-happiness-bb144d451f152]https://ysph.yale.edu/profile/becca-levy/[3] https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-change-negative-thinking-3024843