Mild cognitive impairment: Meditation can boost brain health

 

Mild cognitive impairment: Meditation can boost brain health

 

A paper has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease that highlights that adults with mild cognitive impairment who practice mindfulness meditation could experience a boost in cognitive reserve.

Although the study was small with only 14 participants, the team found an association between mindfulness meditation and signs of improved measures of cognition in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Although MCI is often the first step on the way to developing Alzheimer's disease, no current treatments or therapies exist to help prevent this. 

This prompted Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells to launch the above study.

 
 

Mindfulness-based meditation may be key

 

14 men and women between the ages of 55 and 90 years old with a diagnosis of MCI were recruited for the study.

The participants were randomised into two groups. The first group took part in an 8 week course of mindfulness meditation and yoga, while the second group joined a "waiting list" for the course instead. 

The results showed that the group who participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction has improved cognition. The study also revealed that this practice had a positive effect on the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a role in memory and learning.

Chronic stress has previously been found to negatively affect the hippocampus, which may contribute to MCI and Alzheimer's. This recent study shows that there may be an option that doesn't involve medication or pharmaceutical trials.

A concern raised prior to the study was that the participants, due to the nature of MCI, would be unable to learn the new skill of mindfulness meditation. The researchers found that cognitive impairments did not prevent the participants from being able to learn and use the technique. 

One concern prior to the study was that the participants, due to the nature of MCI, would not be able to learn the new skill of mindfulness meditation. However, the researchers found that cognitive impairments did not prevent the participants from being able to learn and successfully use the technique.

"Until treatment options that can prevent the progression to Alzheimer's are found, mindfulness meditation may help patients living with MCI," says Dr. Wells. "Our study showed promising evidence that adults with MCI can learn to practice mindfulness meditation, and by doing so, may boost their cognitive reserve."

 

MCI and Alzheimer's

 

MCI is sometimes one of the first signs that Alzheimer's may be developing. Although memory problems are a normal part of ageing, MCI is beyond what doctors consider to be clinically normal for people in the same age group. 

 

Symptoms include frequently losing items, forgetting events or appointments, and having trouble with vocabulary, such as finding it more difficult than others of the same age to come up with words.

Doctors diagnose MCI using memory, thinking, and language tests. There is still no treatment available that can curtail the symptoms and ward off Alzheimer's. 

"While the MBSR course was not developed or structured to directly address MCI, the qualitative interviews revealed new and important findings specific to MCI," notes Dr. Wells. "The participants' comments and ratings showed that most of them were able to learn the key tenets of mindfulness, demonstrating that the memory impairment of MCI does not preclude learning such skills."

Some limitations of the study include the small sample size, as well as two-thirds of the population had at least a college education, meaning the group did not necessarily reflect the majority of adults with MCI.

The authors note that more research is necessary to help bolster these results, but the results are promising for those with MCI.

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