Believing that stress or genetics play roles in the development of Alzheimer’s increases people’s fear that the disease will strike them, according to a study.
The research, “The Influence of Psychosocial and Cognitive Factors on Perceived Threat of Alzheimer’s Disease,” also revealed that cognition problems, a feeling that your memory is faulty, and a tendency toward depression also increase fear of the disease.
These insights are important to shaping policies and practices aimed at early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, researchers said. That’s because people with a pronounced fear the disease may not seek attention for memory problems or participate in Alzheimer’s screening programs.
The study was published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias.
University of Michigan School of Public Health researchers hypothesized that psychosocial and cognitive factors impact a person’s fear of developing Alzheimer’s.
To better understand the factors, they turned to the Health and Retirement Study. It included information on 1,641 adults older than 50 who completed a study module focusing on knowledge of and beliefs about Alzheimer’s.
The group was about half men and half women, and roughly 80 percent Caucasian. About half the group knew a person with Alzheimer’s. Thirteen percent had direct experience with the disease, with either a spouse, other family member or close relative having it.
Researchers used a number of test to measure participants’ level of fear about Alzheimer’s.
Younger participants had a greater fear of the disease than those 75 or older. The youngest age group — 50 to 64 — had the most pronounced fear.
People who had personal experience with the disease feared it more than those with no experience.
Researchers asked the participants if they believed stress or genetics increased the risk of a person developing Alzheimer’s. Those who strongly believed that the factors impact risk had the most pronounced fear of the disease.
Those with cognitive problems, a feeling that their memory was faulty, and a tendency toward depression also had a more pronounced fear of Alzheimer’s.
A factor that, when added to the others, heightened participants’ fear even more was having a spouse, other family member or close relative with Alzheimer’s. Similarly, a factor that increased fear in the youngest group was having a relative who was sick with another disease.
How these factors influence a person’s likelihood of seeking medical help for memory problems needs to be explored in future studies, researchers concluded.