Negative thinking increases the risk of dementia

New risk factor for dementia identified?

Persistent admission to negative thinking patterns can significantly increase the risk of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. So-called repetitive negative thinking is associated with a cognitive decline and the deposition of harmful brain proteins.

An investigation led by researchers from University College London (UCL) found that repetitive negative thinking significantly increased the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Alzheimer’s & Dementia".

360 participants from two studies were examined

For the study, 360 people over the age of 55 were examined, which were part of two cohort studies. Over a period of two years, these participants repeatedly answered questions about how they think about negative experiences, with the question focusing particularly on repetitive negative thinking such as brooding over the past and worrying about the future. Depression and anxiety symptoms were also measured.

Cognitive function was assessed

Finally, the participants' cognitive function was assessed, measuring memory, attention, spatial cognition and language. 113 of the participants were also subjected to PET brain scans in which dew and amyloid deposits were measured. These two proteins cause the most common type of dementia (Alzheimer's) when they accumulate in the brain.

Thinking as a risk factor for dementia

Depression and anxiety in the middle of life and in old age are already known as risk factors for dementia. The current study found that certain thought patterns associated with depression and anxiety could be a reason that people with these disorders were more likely to develop dementia.

Check possible countermeasures

The results of the study suggest that repetitive negative thinking should be further investigated as a potential risk factor for dementia. In addition, psychological aids such as mindfulness or meditation should be analyzed more closely to determine whether they can reduce the risk of dementia, the researchers report.

Short-term negative thinking patterns did not lead to dementia

Taking previous studies into account, which have already linked depression and anxiety to the risk of dementia, it can be assumed that chronically negative thinking patterns can increase the risk of dementia over a long period of time, the researchers conclude. However, it cannot be assumed that short-term negative thinking patterns increase the risk of dementia.

What do four years of negative thinking do?

The research group found that people who had a higher repetitive negative thinking experienced a greater cognitive decline and a decrease in memory over a period of four years. They were also more likely to have amyloid and tau deposits in the brain.

How does negative thinking increase Alzheimer's risk?

Repeated negative thinking could be a new risk factor for dementia because it appears to contribute to dementia in a unique way. The researchers suspect that repetitive negative thinking about its impact on stress indicators such as high blood pressure could contribute to Alzheimer's risk, as other studies have found that physiological stress can contribute to amyloid and tau deposition.

More research is needed

Now it's time to find out whether a reduction in repetitive negative thinking through mindfulness training, meditation and targeted conversation therapy could reduce the risk of dementia. The researchers may be able to reduce the risk of dementia by strengthening mental health in old age. Mental health could be crucial in the prevention and treatment of dementia. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Natalie L. Marchant, Lise R. Lovland, Rebecca Jones, Alexa Pichet Binette, Julie Gonneaud et al .: Repetitive negative thinking is associated with amyloid, tau, and cognitive decline, in Alzheimer's & Dementia (published Jun 7, 2020), Alzheimer's & Dementia

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