Meditation has been shown to have an impact on brain activity, decreasing beta waves and impacting each part differently. Activity in the frontal and parietal lobe slows down, while the flow of information to the thalamus is reduced. This can lead to positive side effects such as improved focus, better memory, and a reduction in anxiety. According to a new study conducted at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, meditation’s impact on the brain could play an important role in slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.

Stress, Anxiety, and Dementia


Image via Sukadev Bretz, @Flickr.

As people age, their cognitive ability may deteriorate. This can range from mild forgetfulness indicative of aging, to more serious signs of dementia. According to researcher Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, approximately 50% of those diagnosed with a mild cognitive impairment may go on to develop dementia within five years of this diagnosis. There is also a link between stress and Alzheimer’s disease. This study was conducted to determine if the practice of stress reduction through meditation might help to delay or stop this progression.

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The Study and its Results

The study evaluated 14 adults already diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, who were broken into two groups. One group met for two hours each week to participate in meditation and yoga, over a period of eight weeks. They were also encouraged to practice at home each day, and participated in a day-long mindfulness retreat. The second group received normal treatment, without the meditation and mindfulness practice. All of the participants had an MRI at the beginning of the study, as well as after eight weeks to see if there were changes in brain activity.

Memory tests were also conducted at the beginning and end of the study. Although there were few differences between the two groups in memory, there was a difference in the MRI imaging results. Although both groups experienced some atrophy of the hippocampus, the area responsible for learning and memory, those who practiced meditation experienced this to a lesser degree. This suggests that an intervention with practices such as meditation and yoga could potentially impact the areas of the brain that are most vulnerable to cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Future Implications

While this study was small in scope, it backs up what many alternative therapy practitioners believe; that meditation can improve brain function and significantly reduce stress. If you look at aged care courses at Now Learning or in many universities, meditation is often suggested as a possible therapy for aging patients. Meditation is a simple intervention, with extremely minimal negative side effects. If it could help delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s even for a short period of time, this can improve the quality of life of aging patients. At the moment, there are no therapies to prevent the progression to dementia, which makes this link worth investigating in greater depth.