Link between dementia and repetitive negative thinking identified


Link between dementia and repetitive negative thinking identified


A new study has revealed a link between dementia and repetitive negative thinking (RNT).

The research, which was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, has revealed areas for potential future research in order to further explore the link, and whether psychological therapies used to treat RNT can prevent or slow Alzheimer’s and other dementias.



Dementia is a term which refers to a range of diseases which are characterised by cognitive decline. The most common symptoms include difficulty remembering, thinking, or making decisions.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Typically, it affects people aged 60 and over, but can also rarely affect young people.

It is a degenerative disease, in that the disease progresses and becomes more severe over time. Initially, a person may have difficulty remembering things or concentrating. As the symptoms become more severe, a person may not remember who their family or friends are, hold a conversation, or respond to the world around them.

It is not yet clear exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease, and there are likely several factors at play. There is also currently no cure for the disease, with treatments focussing on management and slowing of the disease.


Repetitive negative thoughts

Previous studies have shown that psychological factors including anxiety and depression may have a link to Alzheimer’s disease. This has led to researchers developing the concept of “cognitive debt” as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, which is acquired by RNT.

Rumination and worry are two processes central to RNT – rumination meaning repeatedly thinking about the past, and worry meaning being concerned about the future.

The present study’s authors aimed to look more closely at the relationship between RNT and the key signs of Alzheimer’s disease – the accumulation of proteins in the brain and cognitive decline.



Observational study

The authors looked at two groups of participants to conduct the study. The first group drew participants from the Pre-symptomatic Evaluation of Experimental or Novel Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease (PREVENT-AD) research project. The second group drew on participants from the Multi-Modal Neuroimaging in Alzheimer’s Disease (IMAP+) study.

In total, the two studies involved 360 participants.

The researchers measured the participants’ RNT, depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline levels for up to 4 years. The levels of tau and amyloid proteins in the brains of 113 of the participants were also measured, as it is believed that the accumulation of these proteins is significant in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.


Link between RNT and Alzheimer’s

The team discovered that the greater a participant’s RNT, the more rapid their cognitive decline was. These people were also found to be more likely to have significant deposits of tau and amyloid proteins.

Although the research highlighted and association between anxiety and depression and cognitive decline, there was no visible association between them and the build-up of tau and amyloid proteins.

According to the lead author of the study Dr. Natalie Marchant of University College London, “[d]epression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.

“Taken alongside other studies that link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.

“We hope that our findings could be used to develop strategies to lower people’s risk of dementia by helping them to reduce their negative thinking patterns.”

Some limitations of the study have been noted by the authors. For example, although the association between RNT and the key signs of Alzheimer’s seems to be likely, the casual relationship between them is not yet clear.

The team believe that although it is likely RNT contributes to Alzheimer’s, they could not discount the possibility that the early signs of Alzheimer’s could themselves lead to RNT.

Regardless, the study shows an important area for future research and exploration, and provides more evidence to support the importance of taking mental health seriously.

According to a co-author of the study Dr. Gael Chételat of the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale and the Université de Caen-Normandie in France, “[l]ooking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia.”


Link to original study:

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