Brain changes associated with meditation and stress reduction could play an important role in slowing the progression of age-related cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, suggests a new study.
First author Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, who conducted her research as a fellow in Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School, said that they know that as people age, there's a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer's disease, so they wanted to know if stress reduction through meditation might improve cognitive reserve.
Wells evaluated adults between the ages of 55 and 90 in BIDMC's Cognitive Neurology Unit. 14 adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment were included in the study.
Participants were randomized two to one either to a group who participated in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) using meditation and yoga, or a control group who received normal care.
The study group met for two hours each week for eight weeks. They also participated in a day-long mindfulness retreat, and were encouraged to continue their practice at home for 15 to 30 minutes per day.
All participants underwent a functional MRI (fMRI) at baseline and then again after eight weeks to determine if there were any changes in the structures of the brain or in brain activity. The neuroimaging was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital's Martinos Center.
The results of fMRI imaging showed that the group engaged in MBSR had significantly improved functional connectivity in the areas of the default mode network. Additionally, as expected, both groups experienced atrophy of the hippocampus, but those who practiced MBSR experienced less atrophy.
The study has been published online in journal Neuroscience Letters.