Repetitive negative thinking may contribute to self-perceived cognitive decline, according to a new study.

Investigators surveyed 491 older adults, asking about a range of proposed psychological risk and protective factors for dementia. These included repetitive negative thinking, personality traits, purpose in life, worry, rumination and meditation practice.

Fully 24% of participants reported memory complaints. Repetitive negative thinking was the only psychological variable associated with self-perception of lower cognitive function and with a higher likelihood of memory complaints, reported Natalie Marchant, Ph.D., from University College London, and colleagues.

There is a silver lining to the results, the researchers wrote. Repetitive negative thinking, or RNT, responds well to psychological interventions when compared with more treatment-resistant psychological risk factors for dementia such as personality traits.

“Addressing RNT as an intervention target could also help promote well-being and improved mental health in older adults more broadly,” they concluded.

In a prior study involving brain scans, the research team found that repetitive negative thinking may be linked to the development of harmful brain deposits seen in early Alzheimer’s disease.

Full findings of the current study were published in BMC Psychiatry.