Understanding whether negative thinking influences dementia risk

Read about a research project we funded: Do negative thoughts increase risk for dementia? A translational study of Cognitive Debt.

Lead Investigator: Dr Natalie Marchant

Institution: University College London

Grant type: Senior Fellowship

Duration: 48 months

Amount: £250,000

Why did we fund this project?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'A novel research project, which should show the extent of any relationship between psychological risk factors and the memory loss experienced by dementia.'

'I like the idea of addressing the needs of those concerned about dementia also the holistic approach and group interaction'

'This proposal involves a very different approach to AD from the majority of these coming through, with its central idea the impact on the brain of negative thoughts leading to cognitive debt.'

What do we already know?

There is evidence that psychological factors such as anxiety, depression and stresscould increase the risk of developing dementia. 

Previous research by Dr Marchant indicates that a combination of these psychological factors may prevent new memories from forming and leave the brain more vulnerable to dementia, in a process termed 'cognitive debt'. Dr Marchant believes that cognitive debt is linked to repetitive negative thinking, where someone often worries or ruminates on negative experiences or thoughts. Repeated negative thinking may lead to an inability to properly cope with stress, increasing a person's risk of dementia. 

What does this project involve?

Dr Marchant aims to further understand what cognitive debt is and to investigate its potential effects on dementia risk. With the help of people already enrolled in large-scale studies for dementia risk, she will develop a questionnaire to measure someone's levels of cognitive debt.  This can then be used to determine whether measuring cognitive debt can link up with other indications of dementia risk, such as brain shrinkage or presence of the Alzheimer's hallmark amyloid protein. This will help researchers to understand whether people who experience repetitive negative thinking and cognitive debt are at an increased risk of dementia.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

Being able to identify people who are most at risk of dementia is essential so that they can access the support and information they need. This information could be used to help people to make lifestyle changes that may reduce their risk. A questionnaire to measure cognitive debt and tendency towards repetitive negative thinking could become simple and non-invasive way to contribute towards our understanding of a person's risk of developing dementia. 

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