Self-reflection linked to improved cognition and end-of-life brain health

Summary: A person’s ability to self-reflect is associated with cognition and glucose metabolism later in life, according to a new study. Those who engage in more self-reflection had better cognition, better overall brain health, and increased glucose metabolism later in life.

Source: UCL

Self-reflection is positively associated with late-life cognition as well as glucose metabolism, a marker of brain health, according to a new study by UCL researchers.

The authors of the new study, published in Neurologysay older adults who engage in self-reflection may have a reduced risk of dementia.

Lead author, Ph.D. student Harriet Demnitz-King (UCL Psychiatry) states that “there is growing evidence that positive psychological factors, such as life purpose and consciousness, can reduce the risk of dementia.

Finding other ways to reduce the risk of dementia is an urgent priority, so we hope that as self-reflection skills can be improved, this could be a useful tool to help people stay healthy. cognition as they age.

“Anyone can engage in self-reflection and potentially increase their degree of self-reflection because it is not dependent on physical health or socioeconomic factors.”

The study used cross-sectional data (rather than reporting the results of trial interventions) from two clinical trials, Age-Well and SCD-Well, which included a total of 259 participants with an average age of 69 and 73 years. They answered questions about thinking about thinking, measuring how often they think, and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings.

Researchers found that people who engaged more in self-reflection had better cognition and improved glucose metabolism, as shown by brain imaging. The researchers found no association with amyloid deposition, the buildup of harmful brain proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research has shown that self-reflection skills can be improved with a recently tested psychological intervention, and researchers say such a program could be useful for people at risk of dementia.

Harriet Demnitz-King explained that “other studies have shown 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, perhaps this is how self-reflection could improve our resilience in the face of cognitive decline.

They warn that although their findings suggest that engaging in self-reflection helps preserve cognition, they cannot rule out that it could instead be that people with better cognition are also more capable of self-reflection. reflection, and suggest that more longitudinal research is needed. to determine the direction of causation.

Lead author Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry) says, “With no disease-modifying treatment yet available, it is important that we find ways to prevent dementia; by finding out what factors make dementia or cognitive decline more or less likely, we may be able to develop ways to target these factors and reduce the risk of dementia.

“Self-reflection has also been linked to other benefits, such as recovery from depression and better cardiovascular health, so while we can’t confirm exactly how it might impact cognitive decline, there are other evidence showing its overall benefits.”

This shows a head and a question mark
Researchers found that people who engaged more in self-reflection had better cognition and improved glucose metabolism, as shown by brain imaging. Image is in public domain

Previous studies by Dr. Marchant have shown that repetitive negative thinking can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, while mindfulness can help improve cognition in older adults.

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the Alzheimer Society, said that “in this study, researchers showed for the first time that self-reflection – reflecting on your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors – was linked to a better brain function in areas of the brain known to be affected by dementia.

“While further research is needed to fully understand the implications of this finding, if self-reflection appears to have a positive effect on brain function, it is possible that one day we may be able to reduce the risk of dementia through treatments. psychological factors that help people grow healthy. Patterns of thought.”

“The number of people with dementia in the UK is expected to reach 1.6 million by 2040. The Government’s commitment to doubling funding for dementia research will allow researchers to explore all ways to reduce the risk.

About this research news on aging and self-reflection

Author: Chris Lane
Source: UCL
Contact: Chris Lane – UCL
Image: Image is in public domain

See also

This shows a diagram of the study

Original research: Access closed.
“Association between self-reflection, cognition, and brain health in cognitively intact older adults” by Harriet Demnitz-King et al. Neurology


Association between self-reflection, cognition and brain health in older adults without cognitive impairment

Context and objectives: Self-reflection (the active evaluation of one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) can confer protection against adverse health effects. Its impact on markers sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is however unknown. The primary objective of this cross-sectional study was to examine the association between self-reflection and AD sensitive markers.

Methods : This study used baseline data from older adults without cognitive impairment enrolled in the Age-Well Clinical Trial and older adults with subjective cognitive decline from the SCD-Well Clinical Trial. In both cohorts, self-reflection was measured via the reflective thinking subscale of the Rumination Response Scale, global cognition assessed via the Preclinical Alzheimer’s Cognitive Composite 5, and a LIBRA (Lifestyle for brain health) modified at end of life calculated to assess health and lifestyle factors.

In Age-Well, glucose metabolism and amyloid deposition were quantified in AD-responsive gray matter regions via FDG and AV45-PET scans, respectively. Associations between self-reflection and AD-sensitive markers (global cognition, glucose metabolism, and amyloid deposition) were assessed via unadjusted and adjusted regressions. Additionally, we explored whether the associations were independent of health and lifestyle factors. To control multiple comparisons in Age-Well, fix false discovery rate p-values ​​(pADR) are reported.

Results: A total of 134 participants (mean age 69.3 ± 3.8 years, 61.9% female) Age-Well and 125 participants (mean age 72.6 ± 6.9 years, 65.6% female) SCD -Well have been included. In the unadjusted and adjusted analyses, self-reflection was positively associated with global cognition in both cohorts (Age-Well: adjusted-b = 0.22, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.05-0.40, pADR = 0.041; SCD-Well: Adjusted-b = 0.18, 95% CI 0.03-0.33, p = 0.023) and with glucose metabolism in Age-Well after adjusting for all covariates (adjusted-b = 0.29, 95% CI 0.03-0.55, pADR = 0.041). The associations remained after further adjustment for LIBRA but did not survive the FDR correction. Self-reflection was not associated with amyloid deposition (adjusted-b = 0.13, 95% CI -0.07-0.34, pADR = 0.189).

Discussion: Self-reflection was associated with better global cognition in two independent cohorts and higher glucose metabolism after adjusting for covariates. There was little evidence that the relationships were independent of health and lifestyle behaviors. Longitudinal and experimental studies are warranted to determine whether self-reflection helps preserve cognition and glucose metabolism, or whether reduced capacity for self-reflection is a harbinger of cognitive decline and glucose hypometabolism.

Registration for the trial: Aging Well: NCT02977819; SCD wells: NCT03005652

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