According to statistics, about 20% of the population is going to experience some mild cognitive impairment at some point in their lives. For about half of these people, this mild cognitive impairment is likely to progress into full dementia, and probably within the next 5 years.
Fortunately, there is hope, according to a recent study published in Neuroscience Letters, that showed how meditation, even in small amounts (about 15 minutes per day) can actually help to preserve cognitive function and slow the progression of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease considerably, improving the quality of life for those affected.
A study conducted at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston evaluated a group of adults who showed mild cognitive impairment. The 14 participants were between the ages of 55 and 90 years of age. A baseline MRI was obtained on each person. Each participant was involved in a guided meditation session daily for 8 weeks.
In addition, checklists were used to assess function and mindfulness. After the 8 week session was completed, an MRI was used to evaluate brain activity. Results of the MRI studies revealed that slowing of the shrinking (thought to cause memory loss in dementia) had slowed. Additionally, nearly every participant showed improved cognition and overall well-being.
Amazingly, researchers have been seeking medical interventions that can help slow or stop the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s for decades, with little luck. Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells states, “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.”
Learning to meditate is not difficult. With a small amount of training, most people can begin to use mindfulness meditation effectively. It involves an increased awareness of the mind and body on a moment-to-moment basis. Exercises that help develop the skill involve “body scans,” which require the participant to pay specific, targeted attention to various parts of the body. Often, yoga postures are used to help improve the focus.
Meditation has long been recognized as an alternative type of medicine that allows a person to decrease stress, which has been shown to improve many body systems, help with blood pressure, improve mental health, boost the immune system and provide countless other benefits. Finding the right kind of meditation for you, and what works best, is important, as it often must be quite individualized for best results.
Further research is indicated before conclusive results can be used to truly help dementia sufferers, but this initial study shows that daily meditation can be a powerful tool to help slow the progression of dementia, preserve cognitive function and help decrease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The brain changes associated with mindful meditation can be quite effective in this way.
Some consider the decreased stress levels that come from meditation cause the slowing of dementia, others consider that true brain changes or chemical changes may be occurring. Additional research may reveal more information about this fascinating discovery and help give hope to those affected by this condition.
SOURCES: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (2013, November 18). Meditation may help slow progression of Alzheimer's disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2013/11/131118141817.htm; http://www.prevention.com/health/brain-games/mindfulness-meditation-slows-progression-alzheimers-and-dementia;http://www.alz.org/; Image courtesy of tiverylucky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net