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Meditation may Reduce the Progression of Alzheimer's Disease

First Posted: Nov 18, 2013 03:29 PM EST
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A recent study looks at how mediation can help slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease through stress reduction.

According to researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, they suggest that brain changes associated with mediation and stress reduction can play an important role in the decreased progression of cognitive disorders.

"We know that approximately 50 percent of people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment-the intermediate stage between the expected declines of normal aging and the more serious cognitive deterioration associated with dementia-may develop dementia within five years. And unfortunately, we know there are currently no FDA approved medications that can stop that progression," Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, said, via a press release. She conducted her research as a fellow in Integrative Medicine at BIDMC and Harvard Medical School. She is also the first study author. "We also know that as people age, there's a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer's disease, so we wanted to know if stress reduction through meditation might improve cognitive reserve."

Participants involved in the study ranged in age from 55 to 90 and belong to Wake Forest Baptist's Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. They had also been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. The participants were randomized two to one either to a group that participated in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) using mediation and yoga, or a control group that received normal care. The study group met for two hours each day for eight weeks, and they also participated in a day-long mindfulness retreat that encouraged participants to practice meditation 15 to 30 minutes a day.

All participants also underwent a functional MRI during the study and then again after an eight week period to determine changes.

"We were particularly interested in looking at the default mode network (DMN)-the brain system that is engaged when people remember past events or envision the future, for example-and the hippocampus-the part of the brain responsible for emotions, learning and memory-because the hippocampus is known to atrophy as people progress toward mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease," he said, via the release.

The fMRI imaging results showed that the group engaged in meditation had significantly improved functional connectivity. However, both groups experienced atrophy of the hippocampus.

More information regarding the study can be found via Neuroscience Letters.  

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