Diana Kelly Levey

Can Meditation Have an Effect on Alzheimer’s?

a woman meditating in a garden

February 23, 2021 | Categories: ,

Chances are, you or someone you know have been impacted by a loved one suffering from memory problems as they age, or have a family member who’s amongst the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease looked at whether meditation or classical music could impact the cognitive outcome on people who were experiencing subjective cognitive decline (individuals concerned with their own memory problems), which is a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. Early intervention when someone starts to show signs of cognition problems is important to try to help prevent the condition from advancing. (Related: How Meditation Can Help You Meet Physical Health Goals)

Can Meditation Help Slow Alzheimer’s Disease?

“[W]hile subjective cognitive decline has been linked to increased risk for the subsequent development of cognitive impairment and dementia and may reflect a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, it may also provide a critical window for therapeutic intervention, and progression is by no means inevitable,” says study author Kim Innes, MSPH, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology, West Virginia University School of Public Health.

In the study, 53 participants were randomly assigned to either practice a form of meditation called Kirtan Kriya or listen to classical music daily for three monthsThen, they had the option to continue their assigned practice for another three months—74 percent of the participants did. The researchers found that both groups showed significant improvements in memory and cognitive performance after three months, based on their scores on a Memory Function Questionnaire (with gains being particularly pronounced in the meditation group). Six months since the research intervention began, the cognitive gains were maintained or improved further, lending support to the benefits other studies have shown that practicing meditation continuously for a few months can have even more benefits as time goes on.

“[The meditation participants learned] new motor and sensory skills, a process which has been associated with improvements in cognitive function and related positive changes in the brain,” Innes says. The meditation also involves training to maintain attention and focus, and in the shifting between one task and another; according to Innes such training may improve several aspects of cognitive function, including memory and cognitive flexibility.

“While this is only one study, these findings suggest that simple mind-body practices may be helpful in those with concerns about their memory,” says Innes. (BTW, yoga can help boost your brain health too.)

Improvement in brain function may be due to the participants continuing to practice on their own over the following three months; the resulting cumulative beneficial effects on the brain, as well as on mood, stress, sleep, and other factors related to memory and cognitive functioning, says Innes.

“In our study, we observed significant, sustained improvements in mood, stress, well-being, sleep, and quality of life … in the Kirtan Kriya meditation group,” she says. “Positive changes in sleep and psychological status were related to gains in memory function, and, albeit more modestly, cognitive performance, suggesting a possible connection.”

Read the full article on Headspace.

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