How Social Factors Can Play a Role In the Development of Dementia

How Social Factors Can Play a Role In the Development of Dementia

People have many different expectations as they grow up. Whereas everybody wants to become an adult, no one wants to be old as the old age group seems to have the most negative connotations attached to it.

Unfortunately, this can not only lead to social problems like ageism, harmful stereotypes and discrimination but also influence the risk of developing dementia.

Latest studies on dementia claim that the beliefs about old age may have a big impact on the chances of having dementia even if a person is genetically predisposed to the condition.

While researchers are not sure of the causes of dementia yet, they are well-aware the genetics form a major part. A particular gene called ApoE is considered by a number of researchers as the main genetic-factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, it has been observed that not every person with one or two copies of this gene suffers from the condition. Less than half of the people having this genetic risk factor actually have Alzheimer’s disease.

How Does This Happen?

The lead author Becca Levy from Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, CT along with colleagues conducted a study to look further into how 53 percent of the people with a genetic disposition to Alzheimer’s disease remain healthy.

The findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS One. The main focus of the study is on the influence of environmental and often, changeable factors in the risk of development of dementia in a person.

Read the findings of the study here.

The researchers observed 4,765 people who had not been diagnosed with dementia at the beginning of the study. 91 percent of those participants were white and around 26 percent were seen to have an E4 variant of the ApoE gene or the gene that is mainly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

All of the participants were also a part of the Health and Retirement Study and were older than 60. Using a subscale of the Philadelphia Geriatric Center Morale Scale, the participants’ perception of work was noted.

The questionnaire also contained questions on how the participants felt about themselves as they age. For example, one of the statements was ‘the older I get, the more useless I feel’ and the participants had to agree or disagree with it.

The observation was carried out for a period of four years. After every two years, the participants were given questionnaires to check their cognitive abilities. Putting in a more precise way, the team did a prospective logistic regression analysis for four years.

What Were the Results?

In the participants who had the ApoE E4 genetic variant, the ones that maintained positive beliefs regarding age had 49.8 percent fewer chances of developing dementia in comparison with the ones who had negative views on age.

According to the team, the results may be explained by looking at the effects of negative thoughts. Negative age-related beliefs may lead to more stress while positive beliefs may help to tackle the effects of stress.

The research also mentioned other studies which have shown how the effects of stress can damage the body and may cause the development of dementia.

Levy and the team concluded that positive age beliefs can cut down stress levels in the body and can also be a protective factor.  Secondly, this also applies to people who had a genetic disposition to the disease.

What Are the Views of Authors?

The authors of the study also stated that their research may have social implications. Since positive thoughts are linked to lower risk of dementia, there should be more awareness and campaigns to fight negative age beliefs and ageism.

The majority of the portrayals of old-age people in the media are negative. Discrimination and biased behavior against old people are also commonly seen in workplaces.

The team believes that this issue should be taken more seriously as it can effectively bring down cases of dementia. It is also important because the old-age population in the United States is expected to double by 2030.

Hilary Jensen

Hilary is a Food Science and Nutrition graduate with specialization in diet planning and weight loss. She enjoys reading and writing on Food, Nutrition, Diet, Weight Loss, and General Health.

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