A positive attitude helps to retain your super-power memory as you age…

Paddock of green
Time spent outdoors and with nature is good for mental health

Sometimes we open the fridge and can’t recall what we are looking for or we can’t remember the name of a familiar acquaintance.

That’s normal, and although it gets more frequent with age, it is not the start of dementia. People with dementia forget that they have forgotten. Those with normal memories recall; it just takes a little longer.

People who have an enthusiastic and cheerful attitude are less likely to experience memory decline as they age. 

Researchers at Northwestern University in the US analysed data from nearly 1000 older US adults who participated in a national study conducted at three time periods: between 1995 and 2014. 

Each time participants reported if they had experienced positive emotions during the past month. In the final two assessments, participants also completed tests of memory, consisting of recalling words immediately after their presentation and again 15 minutes later. 

The results showed that memory declined less in people with a positive attitude, even when adjusted for age, gender, education, depression, negative affect, and extraversion. 

“Our findings showed that memory declined with age,” said associate professor Claudia Haase.

“However, individuals with a more positive attitude had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade.”

The research was published in the journal Psychological Science earlier this year.

Contact with nature and time spent outdoors is good for mental health. A recent study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health suggests that it may also reduce the rate of cognitive decline in older people. 

Researchers performed a 10-year follow-up of 6,500 people aged 45 to 68 in the UK. Participants completed a battery of tests that assessed their verbal and mathematical reasoning, verbal fluency and short-term memory at three different timepoints.

Neighbourhood greenspace for each participant was estimated using satellite images of where they lived. 

individuals with a more positive attitude had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade.

Associate Professor Claudia Haase

Psychologist Carmen de Keijzer said the research shows that the loss in cognitive functions during ageing is slower in people who live in greener neighbourhoods. 

“The risk for dementia and cognitive decline can be affected by exposure to environmental hazards, such as air pollution and noise and lifestyle factor such as stress and sedentary behaviour. 

“Living near green spaces results in more physical activity and less exposure to air pollution and noise. 

“Our data show that the decline in the cognitive score after the 10-year follow up was 4.6 per cent smaller in participants living in greener neighbourhoods. 

“The observed associations were stronger among women, which makes us think that these relations might be modified by gender,” she said. 

The research was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, this year.

While everyone gets older, not everyone feels their age. How old we feel, which is called our subjective age, also varies between people, with many feeling older or younger than their actual age. 

“Why do some people feel younger or older than their real age?” asks Dr Jeanyung Chey of Seoul National University in Korea.

“Some possibilities include depressive states, personality differences or physical health. However, no-one had investigated brain ageing processes as a possible cause.” 

The ageing brain shows a variety of age-related changes that reflect declining neural health, including reduced volume of grey matter. 

Dr Chey and her colleagues performed MRI brain scans in 68 healthy people whose ages ranged from 59–84 years and looked at grey matter volumes in various brain regions. 

The participants also completed a survey on whether they felt older or younger than their age and answered questions assessing their cognitive abilities and perceptions of their overall health. 

People who felt younger were more likely to score higher on a memory test, considered their health to be better and were less likely to be depressed. 

“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain,” said Dr Chey.

“This difference remains even when other factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.” 

One possibility is that those who feel younger are likely to lead a more physically and mentally active life, which could cause improvements in brain health.

However, for those who feel older, the opposite could be true. 

The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience this year.

So to keep a good memory as you age think positive, feel young and take a walk in the park whenever you can.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.