Well-Being as a Protective Factor Against Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Review of the Literature and Directions for Future Research

TitleWell-Being as a Protective Factor Against Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Review of the Literature and Directions for Future Research
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsWillroth, EC, Pfund, GN, McGhee, C, Rule, P
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology: Series B
Date Published02
ISSN Number1758-5368
KeywordsCognitive decline, Dementia

Treatments that target the biological causes of dementia remain limited, making prevention critically important. Well-being—defined broadly as living in accordance with one’s potential and experiencing one’s life as enjoyable and satisfying—is a promising avenue for prevention. It can be targeted by large-scale, noninvasive interventions and has been linked with better cognitive health and lower dementia risk. In the current review, we begin by summarizing empirical evidence linking well-being to cognitive functioning, cognitive decline, dementia diagnosis, and dementia-related neuropathology. Then, we highlight 3 key areas for future research.We searched the literature on wellbeing, cognitive decline, and dementia, focusing on prospective and longitidinal evidence.The research reviewed here provides consistent evidence for associations of well-being with cognitive decline, dementia risk, and cognitive resilience to neuropathology. However, several open questions remain regarding (1) causality and mechanism(s), (2) specificity versus generalizability of associations, and (3) timing.To inform potential intervention efforts, the field must address complex open questions about whether, how, when, and for whom well-being influences dementia risk. The majority of existing research on well-being and cognitive health is correlational, and few studies have tested potential mechanisms that may explain those associations. Further, relatively little is known about the generalizability of associations across different aspects of well-being and for different sociocultural groups. Finally, we do not yet understand when in the life span and on what timescale well-being might influence cognitive health. We discuss challenges and opportunities for addressing each of these open questions, including concrete recommendations for research designs and use of open science practices.

Citation Key10.1093/geronb/gbad020