WashU Expert: Happiness may protect against dementia

older woman with a kitten
A sense of happiness may have a protective effect against dementia. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A sense of well-being can have a profound impact on health, especially for the aging brain. Higher levels of well-being have been robustly associated with a lower risk for future dementia, researchers have found. Happiness is potentially protective against cognitive decline.

Emily Willroth, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis further elaborates in chapter four of this year’s World Happiness Report. The yearly report — produced by Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the WHR’s editorial board — is intended to bring attention to happiness as a criteria for government policy and a way to show how the science of happiness ripples throughout society.

It’s not so simple as to tell people to “be happy”; instead, certain behaviors and habits are associated with a sense of happiness, such as exercise and being active in social circles.

Those same behaviors and habits can potentially protect against dementia, according to Willroth, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at WashU.

The next step is working to confirm that the protective effects of well-being apply to all people in a similar way and seeing if these good feelings (or the behaviors that induce good feelings) have some impact on slowing the progression of dementia. Just as happiness has the potential to be protective, scientists have just as many questions about its restorative effects.

Willroth, along with postdoctoral researcher Kyrsten Hill and PhD student Karysa Britton, offer further details in this video.

Learn more about the World Happiness Report here.

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