Active senior couple engaging in healthy sports activies


EVANSTON, Ill. — Everyone has a favorite memory they want to keep forever. While many things will stick with us into our old age, physical and emotional conditions can eventually rob some of their ability to remember key events. Researchers at Northwestern University say there may be a way to stop this eventual decline: just be happy. Their study reveals people who are more cheerful suffer less memory loss as they age.

The study examined the cognitive ability of nearly 1,000 middle-aged and older adults in the United States during three separate time periods. The group was followed between 1995 and 1996, 2004 and 2006, and 2013 and 2014.

During these exams, study authors looked at the range of positive emotions each person had over the past 30 days. During the final two exams, researchers also had the group complete memory performance tests. The exams challenged participants to recall words immediately after seeing them and then again 15 minutes later.

The results show that those who are enthusiastic and cheerful — a state psychologists call “positive affect” — are less likely to have steep declines their memory as time passes.

“Our findings showed that memory declined with age,” says Northwestern’s Claudia Haase in a media release.

“However, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade,” lead author and Northwestern PhD graduate Emily Hittner adds.

Happiness the key to stronger memory?

Previous studies have also shown positive connections between brain health and staying positively engaged. One such study reveals seniors who frequently participate in social activities have more healthy brain matter.

On the other side of this equation, previous reports have shown people who suffer “negative affect” may do damage to their brains. A study in September reveals people dealing with anxiety and mood disorders are more likely to develop dementia.

The Northwestern study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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