Managing emotions better could prevent aging: study
‘‘Older people generally show a different pattern of brain activity and connectivity from younger people."
By Alice Clifford via SWNS
Managing your emotions better could prevent aging, according to a new study.
Negative emotions, anxiety and depression are thought to promote the onset of neurodegenerative diseases and dementia.
Scientists say that is because prolonged negative emotions can modify the brain.
Older adults are affected excessively by negative emotions and these effects continue over a long period of time.
Two brain regions, the posterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala, are particularly impacted.
These regions are strongly involved in the management of emotions and autobiographical memory.
They are also the parts of the brain most affected by dementia.
With these strong and prolonged negative emotions affecting this part of the brain, people can begin to suffer from pathological aging.
Study author Sebastian Baez Lugo said: ‘‘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.”
Being able to manage emotions and change them quickly is beneficial for mental health and is vital to prevent this kind of aging.
Those who are unable to regulate their emotions and remain in the same emotional state for a long time are at higher risks of depression and damaging parts of the brain associated with memory.
To reach their results, scientists observed the brains of young and older adults when confronted with the psychological suffering of others.
The participants were shown short television clips of people in a state of emotional suffering. This could have been during a distressing situation like a natural disaster.
They were also shown videos with neutral emotional content.
During the process, scientists observed brain activity using functional MRI.
They compared a group of 27 people over 65-years-old with a group of 29 people around 25-years-old.
Next, they repeated the experiment with 127 older adults.
Co-author Professor Patrik Vuilleumier, of the University of Geneva, said: ‘‘Our aim was to determine what cerebral trace remains after the viewing of emotional scenes, in order to evaluate the brain’s reaction, and, above all, its recovery mechanisms.
“We focused on the older adults, in order to identify possible differences between normal and pathological aging.”
Baez Lugo added: ‘‘Older people generally show a different pattern of brain activity and connectivity from younger people.
‘‘This is particularly noticeable in the level of activation of the default mode network, a brain network that is highly activated in resting state.
“Its activity is frequently disrupted by depression or anxiety, suggesting that it is involved in the regulation of emotions.
“In the older adults, part of this network, the posterior cingulate cortex, which processes autobiographical memory, shows an increase in its connections with the amygdala, which processes important emotional stimuli.
“These connections are stronger in subjects with high anxiety scores, with rumination, or with negative thoughts.’’
Now, the research team are investigating whether meditation could help those struggling to regulate their emotions.
Baez Lugo said: ‘‘In order to further refine our results, we will also compare the effects of two types of meditation: mindfulness, which consists of anchoring oneself in the present in order to concentrate on one’s own feelings, and what is known as ‘compassionate’ meditation, which aims to actively increase positive emotions towards others.”
Despite these results, scientists still are left with many questions.
Dr. Olga Klimecki, a researcher at the University of Geneva’s Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences, said: ‘‘We are beginning to understand what happens at the moment of perception of an emotional stimulus.
‘‘However, what happens afterwards remains a mystery. How does the brain switch from one emotion to another? How does it return to its initial state? Does emotional variability change with age? What are the consequences for the brain of mismanagement of emotions?’’
The study was published in the journal Nature Aging.
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