Yoga and meditation for dementia
The intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal ageing and the more serious decline of dementia is “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI). MCI can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. These changes are often not enough to change quality of life significantly, but they do increase the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. There are, however, no approved treatments for MCI which why it is exciting that a new study has shown that yoga and meditation can reduce your risk of developing MCI.
The new study used subjects aged 55 and over who were divided into two groups. In one group, subjects took part in a one-hour kundalini yoga class once a week for 12 weeks and practiced 20 minutes of kirtan kriya meditation every day. Kirtan kriya is a type of meditation that involves chanting and hand movements. The other group engaged in one hour of memory enhancement training once a week for 12 weeks and spent 20 minutes per day completing memory exercises.
At the beginning and end of the 12 weeks, the subjects completed memory tests and underwent MRI scans so the researchers could assess both cognitive function and brain activity.
The yoga and meditation group showed less anxiety and lower levels of depression as well as having better coping skills and resilience.
Both groups showed improvements in verbal memory skills (the ability to remember a list of words) but those who did yoga and meditation showed greater improvements in visual-spatial skills (the ability to navigate and remember locations). Additionally the yoga and meditation group showed less anxiety and lower levels of depression as well as having better coping skills and resilience.
The changes in verbal and visual-spatial memory correlated with improvements in brain connectivity. The researchers believed that the improvements achieved by yoga and meditation could come through increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF) which increases connections between brain neurons as well as maintaining existing connections.
All in all, it adds up to yoga and meditation a good way to slow mental decline as you age.