There are people who only see the bad in everything. A new study has now found that frequent negative thinking is not just due to a state of mind or a crisis, but can be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Brooding, worrying, and starting a negative thought cycle – this happens to most people every now and then when they have a difficult time in life. But whoever thinks in negative patterns frequently and over long periods of time could be or get sick with Alzheimer’s .

This has now been determined by researchers in a new study by University College London , which was published in the journal ” Alzheimer & Dementia “. A team of scientists led by psychiatrist Nathalie L. Marchant examined 292 older adults over 55 years of age who were physically and mentally healthy, but had either one parent or two siblings who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Mental examination and brain scans of the participants

The subjects were repeatedly subjected to mental tests over a period of two years to see how they coped with negative situations. The focus of the study was the so-called RNT, “repetitive negative thinking”, a measurable cognitive process in which thoughts revolve around fears from the past and fears about the future. For years, fear and depression have been considered risk factors and also harbingers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain scans (PET), an imaging technique, were also used to examine whether there are protein deposits typical of Alzheimer’s such as tau and amyloid in the brain. These are deposited there years before the onset of the disease and ensure that over time nerve cells and their connections die off and cognitive performance decreases more and more – i.e. speech and memory performance as well as attention and spatial orientation.

Deposition of Alzheimer’s proteins in the brain detected in RNT

Over the course of four years, it was found that those test participants who had frequent negative thinking, i.e. RNT, also developed cognitive disorders and amnesia. The harmful deposits that were detected in the brain were responsible for this. “We were able to find that a higher level of RNT is associated with a faster decline in cognitive abilities and leads to a deterioration in memory performance within 48 months,” said the study results. “RNT has been linked to the higher levels of tau and amyloid in the brain.” 

The study also showed that depression and anxiety can cause cognitive disorders – but without the typical deposits in the brain. In this study, these could only be linked to RNT, which turned out to be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Deposits from RNT or RNT from deposits?

According to the researchers, however, it should be noted that all study participants already had an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, since the disease occurred in close family circles (either with parents or siblings). Therefore the results cannot necessarily be applied to the general population.

While the study hypothesizes that RNT is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, it might as well be the other way around. In other words: The deposits of dew and amyloid could lead to the occurrence of RNT. In order to clearly clarify the cause, further and more comprehensive studies would have to be carried out, the researchers said.

Therefore, it cannot be deduced precisely from the results whether a reduction in RNT can also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. To do this, one would have to investigate whether measures such as conversation therapy or mindfulness exercises that can reduce the occurrence of RNT also result in less harmful protein deposits in the brain.

Forms of dementia

Alzheimer’s is the most common, but only one form of dementia . Other common forms are Lewy body dementia , in which protein deposits inside the nerve cells are responsible for confusion, visual hallucinations and motor problems. Or vascular dementia , which triggers strokes unnoticed . The symptoms are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease.

Different forms of Alzheimer’s dementia

  • Most common is the sporadic form of Alzheimer’s. In this disease, genetic and environmental influences determine the course. The greatest risk factor is age. But the ApoE4 gene, which is responsible for transporting fatty acids, also increases the risk of falling ill.
  • The autosomal dominant form of Alzheimer’s dementia is much rarer . A characteristic of this form of Alzheimer’s is that the symptoms appear much earlier and intensify or accumulate more quickly.
  • If several people in a family have Alzheimer’s disease, doctors speak of a familial form of Alzheimer’s disease. With this form, the blood relatives’ risk of developing Alzheimer’s is increased. While the lifetime risk is typically ten percent, it increases two and a half times (25 percent) for first-degree relatives.

Risk factors for dementia

In general, the following aspects are considered risk factors for dementia:

  • Age : From the age of 60, the incidence of dementia doubles every five years
  • Gender: Women are more at risk of dementia than men
  • Genetic factors : A certain variant of the ApoE gene (important for the transport of cholesterol in the blood) influences the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms of the disease appear particularly early in carriers of ApoE4.

“About 30 percent of the Alzheimer’s risk can be explained by seven risk factors that we can influence more or less effectively,” says dementia researcher Miia Kivipelto from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm . There are:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoke
  • low education
  • depression

Signs of dementia

The first phase of dementia diseases like Alzheimer’s is the mild dementia stage .

The sick can no longer remember new things. In addition, abstract everyday tasks, such as a tax return , are particularly difficult. In this phase of Alzheimer’s disease, the first protein clumps ( beta-amyloid plaques ) have already formed in certain areas of the cerebral cortex ( neocortex ).

When the stage of moderate dementia is reached, the clumped proteins have already attacked other areas of the brain. The sick can no longer correctly recognize and remember complex shapes and patterns. This makes it difficult for patients to use household appliances or to dress independently. Speech comprehension also suffers. The sick themselves usually do not see their own impairments ( anosognosia ).

The symptoms increase over time. For the sick, this often brings with it additional psychological symptoms, such as fear, depressive moods, hallucinations or a disturbance of the sleep-wake cycle. The stage of severe dementia is characterized by increasing motor and vegetative disorders, such as incontinence. The sick become in need of care.

Alzheimer’s disease is not the same for every patient. Recent studies have shown that the protein clumps responsible for symptoms come from different protein families. Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco concluded that this could be an explanation for the different course of the disease.

Preventing dementia – is that possible?

Depending on the type of dementia, you can prevent better or worse. According to the current state of science, we are simply powerless against some species.

Even so, what harms your body can also affect the brain. You can at least counteract vascular dementia by paying attention to the following six things:

1. Eat a balanced diet

According to the current state of research, a Mediterranean diet is particularly good for our heart and brain. Most recently, Australian researchers came to the conclusion that this diet can also reduce the risk of dementia. The menu mainly includes fruit, vegetables, whole grain and dairy products, olive oil, little red meat, instead fish and chicken.

2. Drink alcohol in moderation

Proponents of the Mediterranean diet also recommend a glass of red wine every now and then. But it shouldn’t be more. Because heavy alcohol consumption can damage the brain. Scientists from Stockholm confirmed this connection . Test subjects who drank alcohol less than once a month suffered from memory disorders only half as often as test subjects who drank more frequently.

The researchers did not differentiate between wine , beer and spirits. Particularly interesting: in subjects who never consumed alcohol, the risk of dementia was again slightly higher compared to the infrequent drinkers.

3. Get enough exercise

Australian scientists recommend two and a half hours of exercise a week to reduce memory loss significantly. That works better than medication.

4. Take a break in stressful situations

Stress can promote breakdown processes in the brain and thus lead to Alzheimer’s, researchers from Argentina report . They found: Of 107 Alzheimer’s patients examined, 78 were severely mentally stressed, for example due to the death of a relative, violence or accidents.

5. Don’t smoke

Smokers are twice as likely to have dementia as non-smokers. This is the result of a long-term study with more than 21,000 US citizens. If you want to prevent dementia, you should therefore give up smoking.

6. Go to the sauna regularly

A study, of course by Finnish researchers , suggests that sweating in the sauna can also help in the fight against dementia. The researchers examined more than 2,000 healthy men. Those who took a sauna four to seven times a week had a 66 percent lower risk of dementia compared to those who did not like the sauna.

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