Bad Attitude Early On May Dumb You Down in Midlife

By Lila Abassi — Mar 04, 2016
Hostility and poor coping skills in young adulthood have been associated with worse cognitive outcomes during middle age. But the prospective study had an important limitation, in that cognitive function was measured in midlife, and not during the early years of being an adult.
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Young adulthood is a time of transition, where one enters the dreaded realm of responsibility. For most, there are careers, spouses, kids (or lack thereof) that can lead a young adult to struggle with their coping skills and the ability to keep their hostility in check. A recent study published in the journal Neurology finds that having difficulty in these areas yielded worse outcomes on cognitive ability in middle-age.

But the study also has its limitations.

The study authors gathered baseline data from 3,126 individuals who were black, white, male, female, and born between 1955-1968, who had participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA). This was a prospective study which measured hostile attitudes using the Cook-Medley questionnaire and effortful coping (using the John Henryism Scale for Active Coping) at baseline between the years 1985-1986. They compared this information to data obtained in midlife between the years 2010-2011.

What the researchers found, interestingly, was worse cognitive outcomes in midlife in individuals who had greater degrees of hostility and poor coping skills at baseline.

However, the one important limitation of this study is that cognitive function was measured in midlife, and not during young adulthood. According to Richard B. Lipton, MD, professor and vice chair, neurology, professor, psychiatry and behavioral science, and director, Division of Cognitive Aging and Dementia, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, is that cognitive differences were not established at baseline.

“As a consequence, we don’t know if cognitive differences were present at baseline," Dr. Lipton said, "or developed in relation to hostility or effortful coping over the 25 years of follow-up.”

Whether it's putting the cart before the horse or not, the important issue, according to study authors, is to address how to develop effective interventions that “promote positive social interactions … may have a role in reducing risk of late-age cognitive impairment.”

Having been a young adult living in New York City, dealing with crowds and public transportation on a daily basis, I’d say that guarantees that I'll suffer from cognitive impairment when I reach middle age. My take home lesson -- find my happy place or actually go to a yoga class instead of dressing like I do.