Practiced by millions of individuals to reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration, and even lower blood pressure, meditation is among the most commonly used alternative therapies in the world. Earlier today, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C., results from a University of Pennsylvania study were unveiled confirming for the first time that daily practice of meditation can improve cognitive function among individuals with memory complaints.
Researchers began their investigation by conducting a series of neurological and memory tests on each subject, who ranged in age from 52-70, with either a history of memory complaints or a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans, a brain imaging technique which measures cerebral blood flow, were also conducted on each subject. Following the initial tests, subjects were taught the techniques of Kirtan Kriya, the most widely practiced meditation in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, and instructed to practice a 12-minute meditation each day for eight weeks.
While follow up testing confirmed statistically significant improvements in memory among all of the study's subjects, the most significant outcome of the study was the stark contrast between the pre and post-training SPECT scans. Follow up scans showed dramatic increases in blood flow to the posterior cingulate gyrus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory. It is the first region of the brain to decline in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which helps to explain why the blood flow-producing meditation has such a profound impact on cognitive functioning.
“This exciting study confirms what we have been observing in clinical practice for many years, that meditation is one of the most effective tools to address memory loss,” said Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, the non-profit organization which sponsored the study. “While we are planning additional research in this area, we can say today with confidence that daily meditation is recommended as part of an integrated brain longevity strategy to delay, even prevent, cognitive decline,” he continued.
Andrew Newberg, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the study’s principal investigator, concurred. “For the first time, we are seeing scientific evidence that meditation enables the brain to actually strengthen itself, and battle the processes working to weaken it,” said Newberg. “If this kind of meditation is helping patients with memory loss,” he continued, “we are encouraged by the prospects that daily practice may even prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
For more information, please visit the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation at www.alzheimersprevention.org.