Consciously engaging in just 10 minutes of self-reflection a day could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a study has found.
Researchers found that older adults who regularly assess their thoughts, feelings, and behavior (with kindness and without judgment) had significantly better memory, concentration, and problem-solving abilities, known as cognition, and superior brain health than those who did not.
The Alzheimer’s Society has backed the study, saying it could pave the way to “one day reduce the risk of dementia with psychological treatments that help people build healthy thought patterns.”
It’s unclear exactly how self-reflection may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the researchers said.
It could be that self-reflection makes us calmer, reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in our blood, which was previously linked to cognitive decline. Or it could be that it improves our mental health, helping cure depression which is known to increase the risk of dementia.
Either way, research suggests that setting aside as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day to quietly reflect on work, relationships, social gatherings, and other experiences may reduce dementia risk.
“This is exciting because there is currently no effective prevention of dementia. So identifying other protective factors could be very important in improving the outlook,” said Harriett Demnitz-King, PhD student at the University College London, who jointly conducted the research.
“Self-reflection is about taking a step back and trying not to be so hard on yourself – actively evaluating our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
“So when we’re feeling down or there’s a problem, we try to think about how we can solve it – not get stuck in these negative thinking styles and think of solutions.
“If you wake up in the morning thinking, ‘Why did I say that, is that so embarrassing? It’s stepping back and saying, “OK, people probably don’t remember what I said and if they do, it’s not the end of the world.” And next time I’ll drink less or try to prevent this situation from happening again.
“Or you can lose weight: ‘I’m really stressed at work, I don’t like it.'” Then you can step back and think, “What is it about work that I don’t like? not ? Is there anything I could do to fix this, rather than just staying in a cycle of this working it’s horrible? »
A daily 10-15 minute self-reflection session is a good way to get into the habit of self-reflection, although the ultimate goal is to integrate the practice into our general thought processes, suggests Ms Demnitz. -King.
“The goal would be to try to incorporate self-reflection into our everyday lives, but often we’re not very good at self-reflection. Giving ourselves some time will help us get used to the process better,” she said.
She says self-reflection doesn’t always have to be something that bothers a person, although human nature dictates that often will be the case.
“It doesn’t have to be something that bothers you – it’s just about stepping back and thinking, ‘What’s going right?’ and also think about the positives,” she said.
The researchers warn that it is unclear whether reflective thinking improves cognition or the reverse, with further studies needed to confirm this.
However, Ms Demnitz-King said she was “encouraged” that reflective thinking helps cognition based on previous research into the effects of other psychological factors, such as sense of purpose and awareness on functioning. of the brain.
Dr. Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the Alzheimer Society, which partly funded the study, is encouraged by its findings.
“Researchers have shown for the first time that self-reflection is linked to better brain function in areas of the brain known to be affected by dementia,” he says.
“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 Thought patterns.
“The number of people with dementia in the UK is expected to reach 1.6 million by 2040.”
David Bartrés-Faz, professor of medical psychology at the University of Barcelona and principal investigator of the Barcelona Brain Health Initiative study, who was not involved in this research, praised the results, which he said build on previous work by Natalie’s research team. Marchant, the other co-principal investigator, also from UCL.
“Taken together, these findings provide important insights into specific ingredients to include in cognitive-behavioral interventions aimed at preserving and promoting cognitive functions in old age,” he said.
“This study is particularly relevant because it highlights the need for a fine analysis of the psychological processes contributing to brain health.”
The study is based on data from two clinical trials involving a total of 259 participants with an average age of 69 and 73 years. They answered questions about reflective thinking, measuring how often they think about and try to understand their thoughts and feelings.
Dr Marchant added: “With no disease-modifying treatments 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 those 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.”
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.
The new study is published in the journal Neurology and involved researchers in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.
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