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Alzheimer’s surge driven by negative stereotypes of aging?

The Alzheimer’s epidemic currently afflicting Western societies could be directly influenced by negative perceptions and expectations of elderly people, a new study has claimed.

Orchestrated by Yale School of Public Health, the report highlights a strong correlation between high rates of dementia and other age related diseases in countries where public perception links age to senility and decrepitude (such as the UK and US), as opposed to lower figures in countries where the elderly are venerated (such as India).

As Alzheimer’s is thought to set in a number of years before symptoms become pronounced, the study suggests that people are socially conditioned to fit in with the stereotypes associated with their age, with the stress of this impending transition triggering the onset of dementia.

Researchers used a sample group of 158 participants with an average age of 68, who had their brain activity monitored annually for 10 years. Those who held more negative perceptions of aging were far more likely to see a significant decrease in hippocampal activity – the part of the brain associated with dementia.

The study also investigated physiological neuro-blockages in 78 participants who passed away during the research, finding a correlation between those who believed negative stereotypes and a build-up of blockages.

Dr Becca Levy, a lead member of the US team, has drawn a positive from these results, stating: "Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realize that these negative beliefs about aging can be mitigated and positive beliefs about aging can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable."

Other possible causes have also been put forward to explain the cultural-societal divide, including differences in diets and the capability of physicians to effectively diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Fiona Lowry, our CEO, said: "At the heart of this report is the need to treat the elderly in our society with the dignity and respect that they deserve. This is something that we place at the core of our care mission at Good Care Group: our personalised live-in care enables loved ones to remain in their own homes, with greater dignity and a higher quality of life, and with better social contact in their own community."