Ten minutes of self reflection could reduce risk of Alzheimer's disease, study suggests

Consciously engaging in just ten minutes of self-reflection a day could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a study shows.

Researchers found older people who regularly evaluate their thoughts, feelings and behaviour (kindly and without judgement) had significantly better memory, concentration and problem-solving abilities, known as cognition, and superior brain health to those who didn’t.

The Alzheimer’s Society has given its backing to 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”.

Exactly how self-reflection may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is unclear, researchers said.

Self reflection has been credited with helping to prevent Alzheimer's disease

It could be that self-reflection makes people calmer, reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood that has previously been linked to cognitive decline. Or it could be that it improves mental health, aiding recovery from depression that is known to increase the risk of dementia.

Either way, the research suggests setting aside as little as ten to 15 minutes a day to quietly reflect on work, relationships, social encounters and other experiences could cut the risk of dementia.

“This is exciting because currently there is no effective prevention for dementia, so identifying other protective factors could be really important for improving the outlook,” said Harriett Demnitz-King, a PhD student at University College London, who jointly led the research.

“Self-reflection is all about stepping back and trying not to be so harsh on yourself – actively evaluating our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

“So when we’re feeling down or there’s a problem, it’s trying to think about how we can solve it – not getting stuck in these negative thinking styles and thinking of solutions.

“If you wake up in the morning thinking ‘why did I say that, that’s 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 I’ll try and avoid that situation happening again’.”

A daily ten to 15 minute self-reflection session is a good way to get into the habit of self-reflection, although the ultimate goal would be to weave the practice into our general thought processes, Ms Demnitz-King suggests.

“The aim would be to try and build self-reflection into our everyday lives, but often we’re not very good at self-reflecting,” she said. “Giving ourselves a set amount of time will help us to become better or more used to the process.”

She says that self-reflection doesn’t always have to be something that’s troubling a person, although human nature dictates that it often will be.

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, which part-funded the study, is encouraged by its findings.

“Researchers showed for the first time that self-reflection was linked to better brain function in areas of the brain known to be affected by dementia,” he said.

The study is based on data from two clinical trials involving a total of 259 participants with averages 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 new study is published in the journal Neurology and involved researchers in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.

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