Self-reflection associated with improved late-life cognition and brain health

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

Source: UCL

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

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

Lead Author, Ph.D. Student Harriet Demnitz-King (UCL Psychiatry) says: “There is growing evidence that positive psychological factors such as purpose in life and conscientiousness can reduce the risk of dementia.

Finding more ways to reduce the risk of dementia is an urgent priority, so we hope that improving self-reflection skills could be a useful tool to help people stay cognitively healthy as they age.”

“Anyone can engage in self-reflection and potentially increase self-reflection, as it is not dependent on physical health or socioeconomic factors.”

The study used cross-sectional data (rather than reporting study intervention outcomes) from two clinical trials, Age-Well and SCD-Well, which enrolled a total of 259 participants with a mean age of 69 and 73, respectively. They answered questions about reflecting, measuring how often they think about their thoughts and feelings, and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings.

The 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 link to amyloid deposition, the buildup of harmful brain proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

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

Harriet Demnitz-King explained: “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 self-reflection could potentially improve our resilience to cognitive decline.” .”

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

Lead Author Dr. Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry) says: “In the absence of disease-modifying treatments, 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: B. recovery from depression and better cardiovascular health. Even if we can’t confirm exactly how it might affect cognitive decline, there is other evidence supporting its general benefits.”

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

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

dr Richard Oakley, Associate Research Director of the Alzheimer’s Society, commented: “In this study, researchers have shown for the first time that self-reflection – thinking about one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors – is associated with better brain function in areas of the brain from which known to be affected by dementia.”

“Although more research is needed to fully understand the implications of this finding, there is a possibility that we may one day reduce the risk of dementia with psychological treatments that help people become healthy when self-reflection appears to have a positive impact on brain function and thought patterns.” .”

“The number of people living with dementia in the UK is expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040 – the Government’s commitment to double funding dementia research will ensure researchers are able to explore all possibilities to reduce the risk.”

About this aging and self-reflection research news

Author: Chris Lane
Source: UCL
Contact: Chris Lane-UCL
Picture: The image is in the public domain

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Original research: Closed access.
Association between self-reflection, cognition, and brain health in cognitively non-impaired older adults‘ by Harriet Demnitz-King et al. neurology


Association between self-reflection, cognition, and brain health in cognitively non-impaired older adults

Background and goals: Self-reflection (the active evaluation of one’s own thoughts, feelings and behavior) can offer protection against health impairments. However, its effect on markers sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is unknown. The primary goal of this cross-sectional study was to investigate the association between self-reflection and AD-sensitive markers.

Methods: This study used baseline data from cognitively non-impaired older adults who participated in the Age-Well clinical study and older adults with subjective cognitive decline from the SCD-Well clinical study. In both cohorts, self-reflection was measured via the Reflective Thinking subscale of the Rumination Response Scale, global cognition was assessed via the Preclinical Alzheimer’s Cognitive Composite 5, and a modified Lifestyle-for-Brain-Health (LIBRA) index was calculated in late-life health – and assess lifestyle factors.

In Age-Well, glucose metabolism and amyloid deposition in AD-sensitive gray matter regions were quantified 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. In addition, we examined whether associations were independent of health and lifestyle factors. In order to control multiple comparisons in Age-Well, the false discovery rate has been corrected p-Values ​​(pFDR) are reported.

Results: A total of 134 (mean age 69.3 ± 3.8 years, 61.9% female) Age-Well and 125 (mean age 72.6 ± 6.9 years, 65.6% female) SCD-Well participants were enrolled. In unadjusted and adjusted analyses, self-reflection was positively associated with global cognition in both cohorts (Alter-Well: adjusted-β = 0.22, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.05-0.40, pFDR = 0.041; SCD-Well: customized-β = 0.18, 95% CI 0.03-0.33, p = 0.023) and with glucose metabolism in Age-Well after adjustment for all covariates (adjusted-β = 0.29, 95% CI 0.03-0.55, pFDR = 0.041). Associations persisted after an additional adjustment for LIBRA, but did not survive FDR correction. Self-reflection was not associated with amyloid deposition (adjusted-β = 0.13, 95% CI -0.07-0.34, pFDR = 0.189).

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

Test registration: Age Good: NCT02977819; SCD Fountain: NCT03005652

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