Negative emotions, anxiety, and depression are thought to drive the development of neurodegenerative diseases and dementia. But what are the effects on the brain, and can harmful effects be mitigated? I observed that the brain of a person was activated. Elderly neuronal connections exhibit considerable emotional inertia. Negative emotions modify them excessively and over a long period of time, especially in the posterior cingulate cortex and amygdala, two of her brain regions strongly implicated in the management of emotions and autobiographical memory. These results are natural agingindicating that better management of these emotions–for example, by meditation–can help limit neurodegeneration.
For the past two decades, neuroscientists have investigated how the brain responds to emotions. “We are beginning to understand what happens the moment we perceive an emotional stimulus,” says researchers at the Swiss Center for Emotional Sciences at UNIGE and the German Central Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases Erkkungen. explains her Dr. Olga Klimecki. This study was conducted as part of a European research project co-directed by UNIGE. “But what happened after that remains a mystery. How does the brain switch from one emotion to another? How does it return to its initial state? Does emotional diversity change with age? What effect does mismanagement of emotions have on the brain?
Previous studies in psychology have shown that the ability to change emotions quickly is beneficial to mental health. Conversely, people who are unable to control their emotions and remain in the same emotional state for long periods of time are at increased risk of depression. “Our aim was to determine what imprints are left in the brain after viewing an emotional scene in order to assess the brain’s response and, above all, its recovery mechanisms. , we looked at older people to identify the differences between normal and pathological aging,” says Patrik Vuilleumier, professor of basic neuroscience at the School of Medicine and professor at UNIGE’s Swiss Center for Emotional Sciences. say. Co-director of this work.
Not all brains are created equal
To observe brain activity using functional MRI, the scientists asked volunteers to watch short television clips showing people in states of emotional distress, such as natural disasters or distress situations, as well as neutral I showed him a video with emotional content. First, the team compared his group of 27 people over age 65 with his group of 29 people around age 25. The same experiment was then repeated with 127 older adults.
“Older people generally show different patterns of brain activity and connectivity than younger people,” says Sebastian Baez Lugo, a researcher in Patrik Vuilleumier’s lab and the first author of the study. “This is particularly pronounced at the level of activation of the default mode network, a brain network that is highly activated in the resting state. Its activity is frequently interrupted by depression and anxiety and is involved in regulating emotions.” In older adults who are part of this network, the posterior cingulate cortex, which processes autobiographical memories, shows increased connectivity with the amygdala, which processes important emotional stimuli. The association is stronger in subjects who have high anxiety scores, ruminate, or have negative thoughts.”
empathy and aging
However, older people tend to regulate their emotions better than younger people and can easily focus on positive details even in the midst of negative events. Altered connections between the posterior cingulate cortex may indicate a deviation from normal aging, and are highlighted in people who exhibit more anxiety, rumination, and negative emotions. It is one of the most susceptible areas, suggesting that the presence of these symptoms may increase the risk of neurodegenerative disease.
“Is it the lack of emotional regulation and anxiety that increases the risk of dementia, or vice versa? We don’t know yet,” says Sebastian Baez Lugo. “Our hypothesis is that people who are more anxious have less or no capacity for emotional distancing. , explained by the fact that they remain ‘frozen’ in a negative state by relating the suffering of others to their own emotional memories.
Could meditation be the solution?
Is it possible to prevent dementia by working with the mechanisms of emotional inertia? “To further refine our results, we also compare the effects of two types of meditation. and the other is known as “compassionate” meditation. aims to actively enhance positive feelings towards others,” the authors add.
This study is part of MEDIT-AGEING, a large European study aimed at evaluating the impact of non-pharmacological interventions for better aging.