Whether or not a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease is partially decided by their genes, but there are also a wide variety of lifestyle factors that can help prevent the disease for a while or make it progress more quickly. Now researchers have discovered that meditation, separate from any other lifestyle factors, may be capable of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was conducted by researchers at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, and the Neurology Department, Apollo Multispeciality Hospital, Kolkata. The joint research team was led by Amitabha Ghosh, Head of Department, Neurology, Apollo, Kolkata, and researcher Neha Dubey, along with Dr. Bapi Raju from IIIT-H’s Cognitive Science Research Centre and his students Madhukar Dwivedi and Aditya Jain Pansari. It was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The research team recruited patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s disease. Each participant was assigned one of two groups: meditation and control. Both groups had MRI scans done of their brains. Then the meditation group was taught to meditate at home for 30 minutes a day in a sitting posture in a quiet environment while following audio instructions via a CD. This simplified, guided process was used so that people with early cognitive problems could follow along without difficulty.
After six months, another round of MRIs was done, and the meditation group showed an increase in cortical thickness and grey matter volume, mostly in the pre-frontal part of the brain. They also showed reduced thickness in the posterior part of the brain.
The pre-frontal area of the brain helps with attention, decision-making, and goal-directed behavior. These brain improvements, therefore, could have a significant impact on Alzheimer’s-related symptoms.
“Seeing this happen in the meditation group gives us confidence that this kind of intervention will be viable and useful for patients with memory disorders,” says Dr. Bapi Raju.
The researchers say their results show that patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or mild Alzheimer’s disease may experience real brain changes from a regular meditation practice, which could result in improved brain health and a reduction in cognitive symptoms.
Dr. Ghosh says people with MCI or Alzheimer’s disease typically have short attention spans, are easily distracted, and have lapses in memory. Meditation can help with these issues by actively teaching the brain to increase focus and consciously disengage from “floating” thoughts.
The initial study shows promise, but the team plans to continue their research on the protection meditation may have against memory loss. They hope to follow up with a larger number of participants over a longer duration to see what the long-term results of regular meditation practice might be.