Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can affect up to 20% of the population at any one time—and half of them will progress to full-on dementia. Now, a recent study published in Neuroscience Letters finds as little as 15 minutes of daily meditation can significantly slow that progression.
Researchers had a group of adults with MCI, all between the ages of 55 and 90, do a guided meditation for 15 to 30 minutes a day for eight weeks, as well attend weekly mindfulness check-ins. Eight weeks later, MRIs showed improved functional connectivity in the default mode network (translation: the part of your brain that never shuts down activity), and slowed shrinkage of the hippocampus, the main part of the brain responsible for memory that usually shrinks with dementia. Participants also showed an overall improvement in cognition and well-being.
“What surprised us was, for a condition that has few other treatment options—and without FDA-approved medications to stop the progression to dementia—an intervention [like meditation] may impact the very areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease,” says Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, who conducted the research during her time at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. So what exactly is mindfulness meditation? Dr. Wells defines it as non-judgmental moment-to-moment awareness, and she says it doesn’t take much to cultivate. For example, participants did regular “body scans,” where they paid sequential attention to different part of the body, as well as mindful movement exercises to practice bodily awareness through yoga postures.
Meditation advice for dementia sufferers
If you want to get on the mindfulness train, Dr. Wells suggests starting with one of the many introductory courses and books available on guided and mindfulness meditation. But if the thought of sitting still makes you even more stressed, you have options: mediation, or mindful movement like yoga or tai chi, says Dr. Wells, are also effective ways to meditate.
Further research is needed to know the exact amount of meditation it takes to slow the progression of dementia, but mindfulness meditation is already known to help people navigate the daily stresses of life, which can’t help but show benefits in the long run.
Reference: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2013, November 18). Meditation may help slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 6, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131118141817.htm
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