Scientists from University College London found that self-reflection is positively associated with cognition late in life as well as glucose metabolism, a marker of brain health.
They suggest that older adults who engage in self-reflection may have a reduced risk of dementia.
The research is published in Neurology and was conducted by Harriet Demnitz-King et al.
There is a growing body of evidence finding that positive psychological factors, such as purpose in life and conscientiousness, may reduce the risk of dementia.
In the study, the team used data from two clinical trials that included a total of 259 participants with mean ages of 69 and 73.
They answered questions about reflective pondering, measuring how often they think about and try to understand their thoughts and feelings.
The researchers found that people who engaged more in self-reflection had better cognition and improved blood sugar metabolism as shown by brain imaging.
They did not find any association with amyloid deposition, the build-up of harmful brain proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Previous research has shown that self-reflection capabilities can be improved with a recently tested psychological intervention, and the researchers say that such a program might be useful for people at risk of dementia.
Other studies have found that a self-reflective thinking style leads to a more adaptive stress response, with evidence even showing improvements in inflammatory responses to stress and better cardiovascular health, so this may be how self-reflection could improve our resilience against cognitive decline.
The team says self-reflection has also been associated with other benefits, such as recovery from depression and better heart health.
Previous studies have found that repetitive negative thinking may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, while mindfulness may help to improve cognition in older adults.
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