Want to boost your brain health? Try getting happy, suggests a new report from AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health, which looks at how mental well-being — comprised of things such as your mood or outlook — can affect aspects of cognition as varied as memory and decision-making.
The report from the council — a working group of scientists, doctors, scholars and policy experts, among others — pulls together previously published research into how mental well-being may change with age and how, in turn, such changes may affect things like your ability to reason, to cope with challenge or even to help fend off dementia in later years. One interesting point, for instance, is how feeling you have a purpose in life might reduce your risk of future dementia by up to 20 percent.
Sarah Lock, the council's executive director, says the group’s new work was motivated in part by earlier AARP research showing that 96 percent of adults think that managing stress well is important to maintain their brain health, but only 43 percent are able to manage stress effectively. Knowing that anxiety and depression are often linked with cognitive decline, the council decided to examine the current evidence on whether adults who are able to cope better with stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression are able to reduce their risks for cognitive decline as they age.
Along with outlining seven key elements of mental well-being — including things like self-acceptance, vitality, positive relationships, purpose in life and optimism — the report stipulates that “most of these elements can be shaped by changing your own attitudes and behaviors.”
Older people may even have some advantages in doing so, given how more life experience tends to improve many mental well-being factors, such as self-confidence, even as aging presents other challenges, the group notes. “Despite feelings of loss that often occur as people age, getting older does not necessarily mean people are less happy. In fact, on average, the opposite is true. Numerous studies have found that people report greater mental well-being as they age past their mid-50s into the later stages of their lives.”