Can Meditation Lower Alzheimer’s Risk? People over 65 who practice mindfulness score better in brain tests, study shows
- Doctors say seniors need to occupy their minds to protect themselves from dementia
- But a study suggests that turning off and meditating may be even more effective
- French researchers looked at people who meditated once a week for 18 months
Doctors have long advised people to occupy their minds in old age to protect themselves against dementia.
But shutting down and meditating may be key to keeping the brain sharp, a new study suggests.
People who practiced the relaxation technique for 18 months scored better on cognitive tests than people who were taught English for the same amount of time to keep their minds active.
One of the paper’s lead authors, Dr. Gael Chetelat, of the University of Caen-Normandy in France, said, “Meditation was superior to native language training.”
It’s the latest research to highlight the health benefits of mindfulness — which has also been linked to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as pain relief.
Meditation involves clearing the mind or concentrating on a particular thought to train attention and awareness and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally stable state.
Trendy mindfulness meditation and yoga are as effective as diabetes drugs in lowering blood sugar, study suggests (file image)
What is Mindfulness?
Think of it as fitness for your mind.
Meditation calms the body, thus lowering blood pressure, stress levels and improving overall mood.
The purpose of practicing mind-body activities is to use your thoughts to positively influence your body’s physical responses to the outside world.
The practices are part of an overarching wellness trend that has been touted by celebrities and tech giants for years.
These activities include….
The process of focusing the breath and focusing on a particular thought, object, or activity to promote a stable emotional state.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of the environment.
A common technique is to silently focus on each of the senses in turn.
Pilates and Yoga
They include breathwork and coordinated, concentrated movement.
Both low-impact exercises, they improve strength, flexibility and posture.
In yoga you take poses and hold them, or you flow into another position.
Pilates sees people assume poses and then train their core muscles by moving their arms or legs.
qigong, tai chi
Martial arts that promote both physical fitness and mental discipline.
Qigong and tai chi are traditional self-healing exercises from ancient China.
They feature coordinated movements focused on body posture, deep breathing, and mental focus.
Qigong can include movement or just sitting or standing meditation.
Tai chi, on the other hand, involves complex and choreographed movements that match the breath.
The study – published in the journal JAMA Neurology – involved 137 men and women.
They were around 69 years old and had no dementia.
The participants were divided into three groups to either meditate, take English classes or continue normally for 18 months.
Meditation and English classes were taught for two hours a week.
The participants were asked to take tests that scored their attention span and emotional states before and after the study.
The meditation group had significantly better improvements in this than those taking the classes.
dr. Chetelat said: ‘Meditation was superior to non-native language training over 18 months of changes in a global composite score recording attentional regulation, social-emotional and self-knowledge capabilities.
‘The study results confirm the feasibility of meditation and non-native language training in older individuals, with high adherence to treatment and a very low turnover.’
Meditation may have enhanced attention because it “allowed heightened awareness and monitoring of experience contexts without being absorbed by them,” the researchers said.
The study also tracked the size of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula — located in the front and center of the brain — as well as blood flow to the organ.
Previous articles suggest that meditation increases its size and improves blood flow.
But the scientists found no significant change in brain volume or blood flow between groups.
dr. Chetelat suggested this may be because the study was too short to pick up on any changes.
It also had a small sample size, which may have made it difficult to pick up on changes.
The participants were recruited between November 2016 and March 2018.
The investigation was conducted between December 2020 and October 2021. All but one of them completed the investigation.
Meditation has become increasingly popular in recent years and has provided several health benefits.
About 14 percent of adults in the US now practice it annually, research shows, as it has become hugely popular among CEOs for the “I’ll sleep when I die” mantra.
Some research has linked it to slowing the advance of dementia by helping people stay focused and increasing happiness.
dr. Chetelat said: ‘Strategies to prevent dementia are urgently needed. Mental training that targets stress and attentional regulation has the potential to improve both cognitive and emotional aspects of aging.
Previous studies have shown that mindfulness meditation improves cognition, particularly in older adults in multiple domains, including attention, executive functions and self-awareness or meta-cognition.
“Mindfulness meditation can also reduce stress, anxiety and depression — including in older adults.”
The number of dementia cases worldwide will triple to more than 150 million by 2050.
With no cure in sight, more and more attention is being paid to lifestyle factors that have a protective effect.