Can Meditation Lower Alzheimer’s Risk? Study shows over 65-year-olds who practice mindfulness perform better on brain tests
- Doctors say seniors should keep their minds busy to protect themselves from dementia
- But a study suggests that switching off and meditating might be even more effective
- French researchers studied people who meditated once a week for 18 months
Doctors have long recommended engaging in mental activity in old age to protect against dementia.
But switching off and meditating may be key to keeping the brain sharp, a new study suggests.
People who practiced the relaxation technique for 18 months performed better on cognitive tests than people who took English classes for the same amount of time to keep their minds active.
One of the lead authors of the article, Dr. Gael Chetelat, from the University of Caen-Normandie, said: “Meditation was superior to non-native language training.”
It’s the latest research highlighting the health benefits of mindfulness — which have also been linked to lower blood pressure and blood sugar and relieving pain.
Meditation means clearing the mind or focusing on a specific thought in order to train attention and awareness and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally stable state.
Trending mindfulness meditation and yoga are as effective at lowering blood sugar levels as diabetes medication, research suggests (file image)
What is mindfulness?
Think of it as fitness for your mind.
Meditation calms the body, lowering blood pressure and stress levels, and improving overall mood.
The goal of engaging in mind-body activities is to use your thoughts to positively affect 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 concentrating on a specific thought, object, or activity to promote a stable emotional state.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of your surroundings.
A common technique is to silently focus on each of the senses.
Pilates and yoga
They involve breathwork and coordinated, focused movement.
Both of these low-impact exercises improve strength, flexibility, and posture.
In yoga, you take poses and hold them or fly into another position.
Pilates sees people take positions and then work their core muscles by moving their arms or legs.
Qi Gong, Tai Chi
Martial arts that promote both physical fitness and mental discipline.
Qigong and Tai Chi are traditional self-healing exercises that originated in ancient China.
They feature coordinated movements that focus on posture, deep breathing, and mental focus.
Qigong can involve movement or simply meditation while seated or standing.
Tai Chi, on the other hand, involves complex and choreographed movements that follow your own breath.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Neurology, involved 137 men and women who were divided into three groups.
Meditation and English classes included two-hour weekly sessions.
They also practiced at home for at least 20 minutes a day. A control continued to live their lives normally, without intervention.
dr Chetelat said: “Meditation was superior to non-native language training at 18 months of changes in a global composite score measuring attentional regulation, socio-emotional and self-aware capacities.
“The study results confirm the feasibility of meditation and non-native language training in older people with high adherence and very low turnover.”
Meditation has become increasingly popular in recent years. It has helped people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent skin diseases like psoriasis.
dr Chetelat said: “Could meditation, a mental training approach to regulating attention and emotions, preserve brain structure and function in cognitively non-impaired older adults?”
“Future analysis of secondary outcomes will determine the interventions that are most sensitive to meditation training and factors related to response to the intervention.”
Previous research has shown that it slows onset by helping people stay focused and increasing happiness.
Staying in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years.
The hallmark of many forms of mental illness is preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a state that meditation seems to affect.
Mindfulness meditation is believed to have promise for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which produces intrusive thoughts and emotional numbness.
dr Chetelat said: “Policies to prevent dementia are urgently needed. Mental training targeting stress and attention 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 several areas including attention, executive functioning, and self-awareness or metacognition.
“Mindfulness meditation can also reduce stress, anxiety, and depression — even in older adults.”
The number of people with dementia worldwide will triple to more than 150 million by 2050.
With no cure in sight, there is increasing focus on protective lifestyle factors.
dr Chetelat said, “Meditation appears to be a promising approach to preserve brain structure and function, as well as cognition, and thus reduce the risk of dementia, by directly targeting psychoaffective factors.”