Neuroscientist Professor Catherine Loveday on how to deal with our relentless cycle of negative news

‘News is important and keeps us connected and helps us know where we are in the world,’ says Catherine. ‘But sometimes when there’s a lot of bad news around a specific topic, it can create feelings of anxiety and become incredibly difficult for people.’ 

First there was Covid-19, then Ukraine… this constant news cycle - on TV, radio and in the newspapers - can be overwhelming. ‘It’s not great for any of us but is even worse for people with memory issues or mild dementia because the more protected parts of the brain respond to repetition,' says Catherine. 'So anything repeated lots of times is likely to stick when other things don’t. This means the negative news could end up completely dominating their thoughts.’ 

It can also be more of an issue for people who live alone and for people who don’t have daily tasks to focus on.  ‘If your memory isn’t as good or if you have a relatively empty day, you don’t have other memories to provide context and balance, says Catherine. ‘This means the news will have a bigger impact.’ 

If you have a good functioning memory or an active, busy life, you will be making memories of other nice things that have taken place during the day. This provides balance and helps to dilute the news. 

That said, the Ukraine crisis – and the threat of war – has been particularly frightening for a lot of older people, many of whom were born during or soon after WW2. ‘This can make the crisis seem more relatable and more real,’ says Catherine 

How to reduce your anxiety 

We should accept the emotions that go with it. ‘It’s perfectly normal to be upset by stories of suffering,’ says Catherine. 

Try to limit the amount of time we spend on the news. ‘We are compelled as human beings to care about other people and want to know what’s going on but we need to be disciplined about how much time we spend listening to the news,’ she says. People who are particularly anxious or living with dementia should probably only watch the news once a day. 

Don’t watch the news before bed if you have trouble sleeping. With or without memory issues, this will be the last thing you remember before you drop off.  

Accept that there’s a limit to what we can do. ‘That means we’re not going to be any more helpful to those suffering in this conflict by watching more of it,’ says Catherine. ‘There’s a point at which it’s serving no useful purpose to know more.’ 

Hang on to the good bits of news and the positive stories of human compassion that come out of a crisis. ‘As we age, we tend to get more optimistic, so tap into this,’ says Catherine. 

 Provide balance. Focus on the good things happening in your day. ‘And for people living with dementia, encourage engaging activities such as reminiscence work - anything that will keep people present and focused,’ says Catherine.