A diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment may contain a “silver lining” for those with the disease, according to research presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky’s Sanders–Brown Center on Aging used an instrument called the Silver Lining Questionnaire to ask 48 men and women with early dementia or mild cognitive impairment a series of questions about their quality of life and personal outlook after they received their diagnoses.

“The overall assumption is that this diagnosis would have a uniformly negative impact on a patient’s outlook on life, but we were surprised to find that almost half of respondents reported positive scores,” said Gregory Jicha, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the Sanders–Brown Center on Aging and the study’s lead author.

Particularly of note were the positive responses on scores in certain areas, such as:

  • appreciation and acceptance of life
  • less concern about failure
  • self-reflection, tolerance of others and courage to face problems in life
  • strengthened relationships and new opportunities to meet people.

“The common stereotype for this type of diagnosis is depression, denial and despair,” Jicha said. “However, this study — while small — suggests that positive changes in attitude are as common as negative ones.”

The next step, according to Jicha, is to explore the variables that affect outlook in these people, with an eye toward interventions that might help the other half find their “silver lining.”