CAEN, France — Meditation may protect older people against Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, according to new research.
The ancient relaxation technique boosts brainpower among people over 65 years-old, scientists in France say. It can boost attention, awareness, and emotional health – faculties that decline with dementia.
The findings shed fresh light on how the disease works and open the door to better therapies. They add to evidence that mindfulness reduces symptoms and even helps ward them off.
French participants assigned to an 18-month course did better than those given English lessons instead to keep their brains busy.
“Meditation was superior to non-native language training on changing a global composite score and two of its subscores reflecting attention regulation and socio-emotional capacities,” says corresponding author Dr. Gael Chetelat from Caen-Normandy University in a statement, according to SWNS.
They have been linked to well-being, suggesting meditation improves mental health and “human flourishing.”
“The attention regulation subscore increased after meditation only,” Dr. Chetelat tells SWNS. “In the context of meditation practices, this capacity allows a heightened awareness and monitoring of the contents of experience without becoming absorbed by them. Socio-emotional capacities decreased substantially after non-native language training, suggesting the difference observed may be due to maintenance of skills by meditation.”
Meditation beats out foreign language classes
The study included 137 men and women, split into three groups. Meditation and English classes included two-hour weekly sessions. They also did home practice of at least 20 minutes a day. A control set carried on living their lives as normal, with no intervention.
“Meditation was superior to non-native language training on 18-month changes in a global composite score capturing attention regulation, socio-emotional and self-knowledge capacities,” Dr. Chetelat continues.
“The study findings confirm the feasibility of meditation and non-native language training in elderly individuals, with high adherence and very low attrition.”
Meditation has become increasingly popular in recent years. Patients say it has helped them quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent the skin condition psoriasis.
“Could meditation, a mental training approach toward attention and emotion regulation, preserve brain structure and function in cognitively unimpaired older adults?” Dr. Chetelat asks.
“Future analyses on secondary outcomes will determine the measures most sensitive to meditation training and the factors associated with responsiveness to the intervention.”
How does meditation and mindfulness impact the brain?
Previous research has suggested that meditation slows onset by helping people to stay focused and boosting 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 a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. Scientists believe mindfulness meditation holds promise for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which provokes intrusive thoughts and emotional numbness.
“Strategies to prevent dementia are urgently needed. Mental training that targets stress and attention regulation has the potential to improve both cognitive and emotional aspects of aging,” the researchers say in a statement.
“Previous studies have shown mindfulness meditation improves cognition, specifically in older adults across multiple domains including attention, executive functions and self-awareness or meta-cognition. Mindfulness meditation can also reduce stress, anxiety and depression – including in older adults.”
The number of dementia cases worldwide will triple to over 150 million by 2050, according to estimates. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on lifestyle factors that are protective.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines meditation with orthodox “thought training,” is already recommended for depression in countries like the United Kingdom.
“Meditation appears to be a promising approach to preserve brain structure and function as well as cognition and thus to reduce dementia risk by directly targeting psycho-affective factors,” Dr. Chetelat tells SWNS.
The findings appear in the journal JAMA Neurology.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.