A group of nursing home residents

Older adults who have absorbed positive beliefs about aging from their culture are 30% more likely to recover normal cognitive function despite having baseline mild cognitive impairment (MCI), according to a new study.

Investigators from Yale University in New Haven, CT, followed outcomes in 1,716 participants aged 65 years and older. Data came from the Health and Retirement Study. Participants had MCI at baseline and at least one follow-up cognition assessment. Age-beliefs were assessed using a standardized measure. Participants were sorted into cohorts based on their level of positive or negative age-beliefs.

No matter how severe the MCI at baseline, those in the positive age-belief group had a 30.2% greater likelihood of recovery than their peers in the negative age-belief group, study lead Becca Levy, PhD, of the Yale School Of Public Health reported. Cognitive recovery was defined as the first transition from MCI to normal cognition, using data from the validated Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status measure.

In addition, participants in the positive age-belief cohort who started the study with normal cognition were less likely to develop MCI over the next 12 years than their peers in the negative age-belief group. This finding held true regardless of baseline age and physical health.

“Most people assume there is no recovery from MCI, but in fact half of those who have it do recover. Little is known about why some recover while others don’t,” Levy said in a statement. “That’s why we looked at positive age beliefs, to see if they would help provide an answer,” 

Levy’s previous research had found that positive age beliefs reduced the stress caused by cognitive challenges, increased self-confidence about cognition and improved cognitive performance. The current study’s results are the first evidence that a culture-based factor contributes to MCI recovery, according to the authors.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

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