Negative thoughts could be linked to dementia

17 Jun, 2020

Do negative thoughts cause dementia?

New Research

New research from a team of scientists from University College London has found that repetitive negative thinking might be associated with cognitive decline. Over an extended period, this could increase your chances of suffering from Dementia.

Repetitive negative thinking

The study showed that repetitive negative thinking (RNT) could be linked to the development of harmful proteins in the brain. The proteins are associated with the most common form of Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers looked at 292 people aged 55 and above. They were assessed on their cognitive function, including memory, attention, spatial skills and language.

Study into Negative Thoughts

113 agreed to have their brain scanned, allowing the team to measure deposits of tau and amyloid proteins – biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Over two years, the participants were asked how they think about negative experiences, including how they felt about the past and their worries about the future.

It was found that those who had more negative thoughts experienced a more significant cognitive decline over four years. Participants who spent more time thinking about the past and worrying were also linked to episodic memory and a worsening of their cognitive performance.

They also discovered a more significant build-up of amyloid and tau deposits in the participants’ brains with negative thoughts, and the higher the build-up, the worse the cognitive decline.


The study’s lead author Dr Marchant said, “People experiencing mental ill health frequently engage in a style of thinking called RNT,” she explains. “This style of thinking involves the tendency to have negative thoughts about the future or about the past, and these thoughts can feel uncontrollable. These findings suggest that repetitive negative thinking could be one reason why depression and anxiety are associated with AD risk – which is in line with my “Cognitive Debt” hypothesis. People who experience a decline in their condition may become more concerned or worried about their health – leading to RNT. Or, amyloid or tau could have accumulated in the brain, disrupted its circuitry, making it more difficult to disengage from negative thoughts. At this point, we are unable to know which came first.”


The researchers have concluded that more study is needed to see if negative thinking poses a risk of Dementia. If it is, then more research will be required into negative thinking, reducing methods such as cognitive behaviour therapy or mindfulness to help lower their risk of these debilitating neurological conditions.

The study is published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Further dementia research

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