In a study of emotional transition in young adults and older adults published in Nature Aging Trusted Source, researchers found that older adults show greater connectivity between brain regions associated with emotional processing and autobiography. Research is also examining whether “compassionate” mindfulness or meditation can help reduce the risk of dementia, as chronic negative emotions are linked to neurodegenerative conditions.
“These findings help us understand how empathy and compassion are represented in the brains of older adults,” said neuroscientist and psychologist Olga Klimecki, team leader at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Dresden, Germany, and one of the authors. studying. “They also give us a marker of brain wiring for anxiety, rumination and negative thinking, which can serve as an indicator of how interventions might work in the future,” she added, drawing on the research divided into two trials.
In the first experiment, the scientists recruited 26 individuals with an average age of 68.7 years and 29 individuals with an average age of 24.5 years. They observed the participants via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they watched videos designed to induce empathy. Older adults showed higher levels of empathy than younger adults when watching videos with low emotions and more positivity when watching videos with high and low emotions.
However, these higher levels of empathy predicted a greater negative impact of viewing highly emotional videos on older adults and younger adults. So, the researchers concluded that there is a stronger relationship between the PCC (the postcingulate cortex involved in processing autobiographical memories) and the amygdala (which processes emotions) in older people than in younger people.
In the second experiment, the scientists performed the same protocol on 127 adults with an average age of 68.8 years and compared the resulting fMRI data with self-reported scores on the Rumination and Empathy Scale. Connectivity between the PCC and the amygdala is associated with levels of anxiety and rumination, but not with empathy.
This means that older adults can regulate their emotional states more effectively because they tend to prioritize social and emotional interactions and are positively biased. And that transferring negative emotions from one moment to another is associated with conditions such as depression, anxiety and rumination, which can increase the risk of dementia. However, previous work shows that emotional transmission is concentrated in young and healthy people. It is not yet known how it affects older people and how positive thinking alters its effects.
Possible Risk Factor for Dementia?
The researchers also found that greater connectivity between the PCC and the amygdala predicted more frequent negative thoughts after viewing highly emotional videos, which may contribute to emotional immobility and acute recovery from negative social situations.
They noted that this can occur through association with personal emotional memories, particularly in older adults with higher levels of anxiety and rumination. They added that the PCC is commonly affected by Alzheimer’s disease and these observed changes in connectivity may actually translate to an increased risk of dementia.
But according to experts, there are limitations to the study. “While we see an association in that, we don’t necessarily see a cause-and-effect,” said Howard Pratt, MD, medical director of behavioral health at Community Health of South Florida, who was not involved in the study. “The subject will not be able to relate to the feelings that person is feeling just by looking at the fMRI.”
Nature Rise’s Sonny Sherpa agreed. According to the expert, since the study included only a small number of participants, the results may not be valid for a larger and more diverse population. “To really understand how effective better emotional management is in preventing age-related diseases, larger studies with different types of people are needed,” he added. “In addition, scientists and medical professionals must also keep in mind that there may be elements of pathological aging that cannot be explained by emotional control alone.”
University of Southern California Professor of Gerontology, Psychology and Biomedical Engineering Mara Mather also expressed concern about the study conveying the wrong impression of the elderly. Previous research indicates that emotional well-being often improves in adulthood. And in the current study, older adults experienced more empathy and positive emotions when viewing the images than younger adults.” “The brain patterns that the authors focus on are not related to these positive age-related effects. Rather, they are related to individual differences among these older adults.”
Effects of Meditation
In the study, the researchers suggest that meditation may reduce the risk of dementia by preventing emotional inertia. To test this hypothesis, they conducted an 18-month intervention trial to assess the effects of this practice on dementia risk.
“To further improve our results, we will also compare the effects of two types of meditation: mindfulness, which involves anchoring yourself in the present moment to focus on your own feelings, and so-called ‘compassionate’ meditation, which aims to increase actively feelings of positivity in relation to others,” they state. .
“We know that meditation training has a beneficial effect on emotions and attention processes,” Olga said. “Having balanced emotions reduces the risk of neurodegeneration, and people who meditate often have better-preserved brains. It therefore appears that meditation may help reduce dementia risk factors, such as negative emotions, and positively influence mood.” mental alertness in old age”.