Does being Happy and Stress-free prevent Old-age Dementia?

There are a lot of advantages of being happy and stress free. For one, you tend to enjoy life more and that is a very important aspect of living, since we have just one life at our disposal. Then there are the so called ‘health benefits’ of being happy and relaxed. People throughout the ages have gone as far as to say that ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ But exactly how much truth is there in this saying? Can happiness, which is basically a mental or emotional state, and being stress free, cure physical ailments or at least mental ones? Let us try to analyze this thought provoking hypothesis carefully.

Take a look at one of the most common mental ailments affecting society today, dementia. Dementia is not exactly a disease. Instead dementia is a generalized term used to describe a number of mental symptoms related to cognitive deterioration such as memory loss and other symptoms which in turn can be severe enough to negatively impact your quality of life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for almost eighty percent of all dementia cases.

According to Brain Test, symptoms of dementia develop due to damaged brain and nerve cells and some of the most common ones include:

  • Memory loss.
  • Difficulty in communication.
  • Struggling with complex tasks.
  • Difficulty in planning things.
  • Loss of motor functions.
  • Personality changes.
  • Increased inappropriate behavior.
  • Paranoia and hallucinations.
  • Lack of reasoning.

Now let us take a look at what it means to be happy. Happiness is a positive state of mind, focusing on the positive, pleasurable aspects of life and in a way being associated with contentment as well. Happiness results from thankfulness, mindfulness, and focusing on the good in life.

There have been a lot of studies done on the impact of happiness and laughter on personal health. A study conducted in 2007 by Laura Kubzansky of Harvard School of Public Health followed 6000 men and women over a course of 20 years and concluded that a happy outlook on life could significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

A study conducted by the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ says that elderly people who are happy have a 35% chance of living a longer life than their negative counterparts. Centenarians when interviewed, attributed a happy attitude as a main contributing factor to their longevity.  

Laughter triggers the healthy release of chemicals in your body. It helps to strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, minimize pain and reduce stress. It also helps you socially by making it easier to build relationships and get intimacy. Laughter can improve your immune system by increasing immune cells and infection fighting antibodies, and it generally makes you feel good because laughing releases Endorphins, ‘the mood lifter’ chemicals of the body. Laughing also reduces the stress hormone Cortisol which can affect a person’s memory. This means that the brain chemistry and structure works better without cortisol, and laughter helps achieve that.  

In a study entitled ‘Dementia, Autonomy and Unexpected Happiness’ by Katherine Koza of Carleton College, it is observed on a subject that happiness and contentment can make dementia easier to handle for the patient.

Though some of the benefits of being happy and laughter are well known, it is still not conclusive about how it can prevent dementia. There needs to be more studies and research done on the positive impact laughter has on personal wellbeing, especially related to mental disorders such as dementia. Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of ‘Laughter: A Scientific Investigation’ says that unfortunately there has not been enough definitive research on the beneficial impact of laughter on health.

It is a well-known fact that stress and anxiety play a negative role in a person’s life. The sad reality of today’s world is that people are more and more burdened with stress, due to the fast pace of life, increased workloads and financial pressures. The American Psychological Association says that chronic stress can increase your chance of having a heart attack, arrhythmias and even cause sudden death. Even short term stress can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.

Jack P.Shonkoff of Harvard Graduate School of Education and Julius B. Richmond of Harvard Medical School say that ‘toxic stress’ experienced during early childhood can have a harmful effect on the brain and other body organs. Toxic stress was defined by them as the long term activation of the body’s stress system due to early life experiences such as parental neglect, violence, abuse or living alone with a mentally sick parent.

Stress has been linked as a contributing factor leading to dementia. A study by Colleen Doyle, David Dunt and Philip Morris titled ‘Stress and Dementia’ examines the relationship between the two. The study says that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a major contributing factor towards developing dementia in later stages, particularly old age.

Stress as a contributing factor towards dementia has been proved in another study titled ‘Stress and Dementia: the role of the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis’. It studied the Hippocampus in the brain and that is associated with learning and memory.

The Hippocampus is also very sensitive to stress hormones due to its high concentration of corticosteroid receptors. The study examined several factors and came up with the conclusion that there is a pathogenetic role of stress hormones in the occurrence and progression of cognitive disorders in elderly people.

With this analysis, we can conclude that though there is not sufficient research on the effects of being happy and its relationship in preventing dementia, we know for sure that being stress free can help a great deal in preventing age old dementia. One should also keep a happy outlook on life instead of waiting for research on how it prevents dementia, since happiness only has a positive impact on personal wellbeing and is definitely worth pursuing.

 

AUTHOR BIO

ABOUT ALMA CAUSEY

Alma is a mother, wife and a professional blogger by choice. She has completed her masters in English literature from the University of Groningen. As a blogger she wrote quite a few posts on health, technology as well as management. She loves to discover new places and share experiences in words. Oh, Alma- is incomplete without cats.

Find her on Twitter: @Almacausey

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