Mindfulness ‘may help people at risk of Alzheimer’s from getting the memory-robbing disorder by boosting their cognitive reserve’
- Scientists looked at 14 adults who struggled with memory and learning skills
- After eight weeks, those who did mindfulness scored better on cognitive tests
- Being present may reduce stress, which has been linked to poor memory
Trendy mindfulness loved by A-list celebrities could prevent at-risk people from Alzheimer’s, research suggests.
Scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina looked at 14 adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
This is defined as minor difficulties with memory and thinking, which increases a person’s risk of developing dementia.
After eight weeks, the participants who took part in a meditation-mindfulness course scored better on cognitive tests.
Being present to the world around us is thought to reduce stress. Over the long-term, feeling frazzled can affect the hippocampus in the brain, which is involved in memory and learning.
Harry Potter star Emma Watson is said to be a fan of mindfulness. She is pictured left at the Elle Style Awards 2017 after party in London in February 2017. Angelina Jolie is also thought to practice mindfulness. She is pictured right at a film premiere in New York in September 2017
‘Until treatment options that can prevent the progression to Alzheimer’s are found, mindfulness meditation may help patients living with MCI,’ study author Dr Rebecca Erwin Wells said.
‘Our study showed promising evidence that adults with MCI can learn to practise mindfulness meditation, and by doing so may boost their cognitive reserve.’
MCI affects between five and 20 per cent of people over 65 in the UK, Alzheimer’s Society statistics.
And in the US, 15-to-20 per cent of older adults have the condition, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Statistics suggest five-to-15 per cent of MCI sufferers go onto develop dementia.
There is no known way to prevent this, however, past studies suggest lifestyle habits, like exercise, can boost cognition, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Mindfulness-meditation has been linked to improved thinking skills, however, the researchers questioned whether adults with MCI have the ‘capacity to learn’ the skill.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION?
Meditation can be traced back to as early as 5000 BC.
It is associated with some philosophies and religions but is practiced as a secular, stress-relieving activity more and more.
A recent study revealed that meditation can reduce one’s risk of heart disease by decreasing risk factors that can lead to the illness.
Specifically, it found that the practices can lower one’s blood pressure and their anxiety and depression levels.
It can also help people quit smoking, which can lead to a fatal heart attack.
Experts are warning that healthy lifestyle changes such as being more physically active are still the surest way to ward off the disease, but adding that meditation can also decrease one’s chances.
Mindfulness involves paying more attention to the present moment, including your thoughts, emotions and the world around you. This has been linked to improved mental wellbeing.
To learn more, 14 adults, aged 50-to-90, with MCI were divided into two groups.
The first took part in an eight-week course of mindfulness-meditation and yoga, while the other acted as the control group.
At the end of the eight weeks, the participants took part in interviews to uncover their cognitive abilities.
Results revealed those who practised mindfulness-meditation developed ‘mega-cognition’, ‘decreased stress’ and ‘improvement in interpersonal skills’.
They also reported improved wellbeing and relaxation. Mood changes are a recognised symptom of dementia.
‘While the concept of mindfulness meditation is simple, the practice itself requires complex cognitive processes, discipline and commitment,’ Dr Erwin Wells said.
‘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.’
The researchers stress their study was small and may not be reflective of the general population, with two-thirds of the participants being college educated. Higher education may protect against dementia, studies suggest.
Harry Potter star Emma Watson is said to be a fan of mindfulness, as well as actress Angelina Jolie.
Mindfulness involves paying more attention to the present moment, including your thoughts, emotions and the world around you. This has been linked to improved mental wellbeing (stock)
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.
That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.
The progress of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioral changes
- Mood swings
- Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call
- Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
- Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior
- Eventually lose ability to walk
- May have problems eating
- The majority will eventually need 24-hour care
Source: Alzheimer’s Association