Results of Pilot Study Published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease Reveal that Meditation Improves Cognition in those with Memory Loss
February 24, 2010 (Tucson, Ariz.) The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation today announced data demonstrating that a specific meditation performed daily for eight weeks increased brain activity in areas central to memory and actually improved cognition in patients suffering from memory problems. The results of the study, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, were published in an early online version of an article scheduled to appear in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (Volume 20:2, April 2010).
The risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) rises dramatically as people age and, as the ranks of our nation's elderly swell, the number of people facing this dreadful disease will devastate our already overburdened healthcare system. Slowing the progression of AD by five or ten years would lessen this burden dramatically, but few options to slow, or perhaps even prevent, memory loss exist.
"While meditation is already practiced by millions, this is the first study to investigate its potential to reverse memory loss in patients with cognitive impairment," said Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., the founding president and medical director of the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation, a meditation expert and study co-author. Kirtan Kriya (KK), the meditation evaluated in the study, is a 12-minute practice from the Kundalini yoga tradition. "These results confirm what we have long observed in clinical practice, that this brief, simple meditation can have a meaningful impact on memory and on the quality of people's lives as they age."
The frontal lobe of the brain, which became more active as a result of meditation in the study, aids in attention and concentration and has been shown to be affected in patients with dementia disorders. The frontal lobe and the parietal lobe, another part of the brain positively affected in the study, are both parts of the brain which are involved in retrieving memories.
"It would be extremely useful to have a cost-effective, non-pharmacological approach to slowing memory loss that could bolster the effect of medications without fear of side effects or drug-drug interactions," said Andrew Newberg, M.D., associate professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and study co-author. "While further study into the impact of Kirtan Kriya is required, the pilot study demonstrates that this meditation could be a very important tool in improving cognition in people with memory loss."
About the Study
Fifteen subjects with memory problems, ranging in age from 52 to 77 years, were enrolled in this open-label pilot study. At the start of the study, cognitive tests, as well as images of the brain measuring cerebral blood flow (CBF), were taken for each subject using Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans. Subjects were taught KK and instructed to practice it each day for eight weeks.
While this was an open-label study, a small comparison group (n=5) was also recruited in which the meditation was replaced with a music listening task. The "music group" was instructed to listen to two Mozart violin concertos each day for approximately 12 minutes. Subjects kept a daily log of their study activity and were contacted at four weeks with a reminder to continue the practice.
After eight weeks, cognitive tests and SPECT scans were repeated for both groups and researchers compared pre-program with post-program results. The study found that:
- CBF was increased in the KK group in the frontal lobe regions and the right superior parietal lobe
- In contrast, a non-significant increase in CBF was seen in the music group in the amygdala and precuneus areas of the brain
- The KK group had statistically significant improvements in a neuropsychological test which measures cognition by asking subjects to name as many animals as they can in one minute
- Improvements were also seen in the KK group in three other cognitive tests that measured general memory, attention and cognition
- There were no statistically significant improvements in cognition in the music group
- Participants found the meditation to be enjoyable and beneficial and perceived their cognitive function to be improved
About the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation
The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the incidence of Alzheimer's disease by conducting clinical research and providing educational outreach about the lifestyle changes that can help prevent Alzheimer's disease. For more information, please visit the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation at www.alzheimersprevention.org.
i Newberg AB, Wintering N, Khalsa DS, Roggenkamp H, Waldman MR. 2010. Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function and Cerebral Blood Flow In Subjects with Memory Loss: A Preliminary Study. J Alzheimers Dis. Volume 20:2, April 2010 (DOI 10.3233/JAD-2010-1391).
iiOne of the participants with AD was excluded from the analysis because of difficulty performing the meditation