A meditation practice might help with memory problems
A regular meditation practice might benefit
older adults beginning to notice memory problems, a small pilot study finds.
The study focused on
25 older adults deemed to have mild cognitive impairment -- problems with
memory and thinking that may, in some cases, progress to dementia.
assigned them to either 12 weeks of meditation and other yoga practices, or 12
weeks of memory enhancement training -- which taught strategies for improving
In the end, the
study found, both groups did a little better on tests of verbal memory -- the
kind involved in remembering names or lists of words, for example. But the
meditation group showed a bigger change, on average, in tests of visual-spatial
memory -- which is needed for navigating while walking or driving, or trying to
recall a location.
The meditators also
showed fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.
To Dr. Helen
Lavretsky, the senior researcher on the study, that is a key finding.
of yoga and meditation are diverse," said Lavretsky, a
professor-in-residence in the psychiatry department at the University of
California, Los Angeles.
There are several
reasons the practices might help seniors with memory issues, Lavretsky said.
One way is by easing
their anxiety about those problems. But, there may also be more-direct effects
on "brain fitness," she explained.
Her team found
evidence of that in specialized MRI scans that charted study participants'
brain activity. In both groups, changes were seen in the
"connectivity" of certain brain networks involved in memory.
published May 10 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, are based on this small
group of older adults followed for a limited time.
So it's hard to draw
firm conclusions, said Mary Sano, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research
Center at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, in New York City.
For one, she said,
older adults with mild cognitive impairment are an "amorphous group."
It can include people with temporary memory issues, or anxiety over memory
lapses that are not pathological.
participants' scores were pretty high, so that raises the question, are they
really impaired or just nervous [about memory issues]?" said Sano, who was
not involved in the study.
That said, many
other studies have pointed to "neural effects" from meditation, Sano
noted. So it's not surprising, she said, that people who practiced it would
show changes on memory tests.
For the study, all
the adults recruited by Lavretsky's team were ages 55 and older who had memory
complaints -- forgetting names and appointments, or misplacing things, for
Eleven went through
12 weekly sessions in memory enhancement training, which has proven helpful in
past studies of people with mild impairments. It involves learning techniques
for managing memory issues, and performing mental exercises at home -- ranging
from crossword puzzles to computer-based programs.
group also had a weekly class. It involved breathing practices,
"kriyas" -- which combine some movement, stretching and breathing
exercises -- and meditation. Their homework was to perform the 12-minute
meditation every day on their own.
The study tested a
specific form of meditation called kirtan kriya, which involves hand movements,
chanting mantras and visualizations.
said Lavretsky, may be particularly engaging for the mind.