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Having a Positive Attitude About Aging May Reduce Dementia Risk, Study Suggests

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Aging can feel like an unknown, unflattering, and unwanted journey. It's scary to think about getting older, especially when women are pressured to "age gracefully." But being happy about aging can not only make you feel better, it can actually be beneficial to your health, too. A research team led by the Yale School of Public Health found that elderly people who have a positive outlook on aging are less likely to develop dementia.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, analyzed 4,765 people at least 60 years old, with the average age being 72. The sample size included people who carry the ε4 variant of the APOE gene, which is "one of the strongest risk factors for dementia," according to the study. Researchers report that those who carried the gene and had positive beliefs about aging were almost 50 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who carried the gene but thought negatively about aging.

"We found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors of dementia," says Becca Levy, the lead author of the study. "This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism, which is a source of negative age beliefs."

The study reports that one-fourth "of the population carries the ε4 variant of the APOE gene" but only 47 percent of carriers will develop dementia. The reason for the remaining 53 percent not developing dementia is unknown, but "the results of this study suggest that positive age beliefs, which are modifiable and have been found to reduce stress, can act as a protective factor, even for older individuals at high risk of dementia."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dementia affects 4.5 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in adults. Although there are uncertainties about the causes of dementia, there are known ways on how you can be more positive to help prevent it.

Aymee Coget, PhD, is the founder of Happiness for HumanKind, a consultancy that works to bring happiness to people through leadership programs, and she has more than 20 years of experience in "applying positive psychology to increase well-being." Dr. Coget, 41, shared with us her top five tips on how to become happier — right now.

1. Become empowered.

"Get off the emotional rollercoaster and stop the hedonic treadmill [in order] to create your upward spiral. Stop waiting around for other people places things and situations to make you happy. Choose to take your happiness into your own hands right now!" Coget says.

2. Create a positive mood.

"Adopt a happiness practice — today. This means focus your attention on positive thinking, living in the moment, and conscious activities like love and kindness to boost your mood from the inside out," she says. "Exercise counts for a lot, so you can easily start there with moving your body at least 20 minutes a day. Seek to provide yourself with at least three positive emotional experiences daily."

3. Overcome challenges.

"Use resiliency skills like forgiveness, acceptance, perseverance, bravery, [and] realistic optimism to help you overcome any challenge you may be facing at the moment. Dig deep for your 'can do' attitude," Coget says. "You are the only one you can truly count on to ‘bring it!’"

4. Create contentment.

"Ask yourself the deeper questions about your life’s purpose," she says. "What truly gives you a sense of meaning in life? How can you actualize your true self in the world around you? What are your natural strengths?"

5. Achieve bliss.

"Connect to something larger than yourself. Visit nature, a rock concert, meditate, and pray. "If this is out of your realm of possibility, seek to talk about faith with other people of a variety of backgrounds to see what they do," Coget says.

How to Help Those Around You Become Happier

Coget says to use the "AAA" strategy: Admire, Appreciate, and show Affection. "Everyone needs more admiration, appreciation, and affection in life," she says. This technique was developed from research by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

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