Optimistic Thinking May Help Preserve Memory and Judgement

It should come as no surprise that optimistic thinking is, for the most part, better for one’s health than negative thinking.

In fact, negative thinking has been connected to poor health for some time. A recent study confirms what was previously suspected, linking optimistic thinking to the preservation of memory and good judgement. Both of those traits bode well for staving off, if not preventing, Alzheimer’s disease.

Research conducted by the University of Michigan has linked an optimistic outlook to taking better care of ourselves overall, which may explain the effect that optimism has on Alzheimer’s risk.

“When older adults feel optimistic about their future, they are less likely to experience decreases in memory, problem solving, and judgment,” researchers said. “Optimistic thinking lead to positive health behaviors, such as exercising and eating healthier diets, and lower risk for a variety of health conditions, including stroke and heart attacks.”

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, covered a four-year period. The scientists found that about 500 of more than 4,600 participants developed cognitive impairment, meaning that they showed signs where they experienced decreased memory, had difficulty solving problems and making sound decisions -- or all three. After examining the data, the results showed that individuals who reported more optimism had a lower risk of cognitive impairment.

The number of people who will be living with cognitive impairment leading toward some type of dementia is surging, with a projection that the more than five million people counted in 2015 will rise to 13.8 million by 2050. The costs of dementia are estimated to shoot from $226 million in 2015 to $1.1 trillion in 2050.

Katerina Gawronski, lead author of the study, said in a news story from the University of Michigan, "We felt like this was an important topic to investigate and, to our knowledge, it's the first study to examine the link between optimism and cognitive impairment in older adults. We found that optimism was indeed associated with better cognitive health over time."

It’s easy to understand that people who have a negative bent toward life may feel that there isn’t much that they can do about their thinking. But the researchers say that this can be changed. Yes, this is fine.

The study states that randomized controlled trials have shown that people can modify their tendency toward negative thinking by using what they call a simple pencil and paper test. Likely, a computer would work just as well. The idea is to write about your “best possible self.”

This strikes me as something that people who keep a journal could do. Journaling, like meditation, has been shown to be a sound tool that can contribute to improved mental health.For those who don’t want to journal, my suggestion is to open up a document page on your computer (or a clean sheet of letter paper if you prefer) and list qualities that you admire about yourself, along with qualities that you admire in other people. You may, after studying your notes, see a pattern of negative thinking toward yourself that, with practice, could be adjusted.

Understanding that change is possible could open you up to steps that could start you on the road to more positive thinking. If you take the self-examination route, don't expect immediate miracles and try to be truthful, but kind, to yourself. Baby steps work fine when we are trying to break old habits and replace them with new, healthier habits.

Developing friendships with positive people, reconnecting with your chosen faith, and resolving to take better care of your body can all be helpful.

This takes us full circle. Optimism can help us resolve to take better care of our body, and when we change our lifestyle in ways that take better care of our body, we generally feel better about ourselves. This, in turn, makes it easier to remain optimistic. I don't see a downside to working toward a more optimistic outlook. We may instead have a great deal to gain.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at mindingourelders.com.