March 27, 2023

Negative emotions could contribute to increase the risk of developing degenerative diseases and dementia (source 1). Indeed, these emotions such as anxiety or stress, felt for a long time, modify the brain. Better managing this type of emotion would prevent, or at least reduce the risks of aging by developing this type of pathology. L’study published in the journal Nature Agingdemonstrates the link between negative emotions and increased risk of dementia.

Older people particularly affected

Affected excessively and over a long period, the older people are most affected. Brain level, these are the areas of the posterior cingulate cortex and amygdala who are concerned: indeed, these two areas have a key role in emotion regulation and also for the autobiographical memory.

“Our hypothesis is that more anxious people would have no or less capacity for emotional distancing. The mechanism of emotional inertia in the context of aging would then be explained by the fact that the brain of these people remains ‘frozen’ in a negative state, by relating the suffering of others to their own emotional memories, “explains the author of the study, Sebastian Baez Lugo.

As a result, being able to change and manage one’s emotions would therefore be beneficial for mental health and essential to avoid this type of aging of the brain, which would have known only these kinds of emotions, too long. In which case the areas of the brain concerned remain anchored in these harmful emotions, resulting in an emotional state that can trigger depression and damage the parts of the brain responsible for memory (source 2).

The groups observed during the study were made up of the elderly and of younger people : 27 elderly people, over 65 years old, against 29 people around 25 years old. Of short television sequences showing emotionally distressed people were shown to study participants, in order to observe their brain activity on MRI. Alongside this, neutral emotional content was also released. The scientists then repeated the experiment with 127 older adults. The goal : determine if the content viewed would leave a mark on the brain.

“Our goal was to determine what brain trace remains after the visualization of emotional scenes, in order to assess the brain’s reaction and, above all, its recovery mechanisms. We focused on the elderly, in order to identify any differences between normal and pathological aging,” explains Patrik Vuilleumier, co-author of the study.

Elderly and young subjects do not present not the same pattern of neural activity, in particular at the level of the network of the default mode, which is an activated cerebral network, even at rest. It can be affected by depression or anxiety and therefore has a role in regulating emotions. This is where in the elderly, this network shows more connectionswhen they show signs of high anxiety.

Meditation as a solution?

The research team is trying to determine if meditation could have a positive effect on this regulation of emotions.

“In order to refine our results, we are also going to compare the effects of two types of meditation: mindfulness, which consists of anchoring oneself in the present to focus on one’s own feelings, and so-called “compassionate” meditation, which aims to actively increase positive emotions towards others,” says the author of the study.

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