January 26, 2017
A three-month program of yoga and meditation helped ease the decline in thinking and memory skills that often precedes Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new report. The benefits of yoga and meditation were comparable to those of a brain-training program, while providing additional mood-boosting benefits.
The study, from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, add to a growing body of research that suggests that programs for the mind and body can help to strengthen the brain and perhaps help keep Alzheimer’s at bay.
“Memory training was comparable to yoga with meditation in terms of improving memory,” said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, the study’s senior author and a professor in residence in UCLA’s department of psychiatry.Yoga, she said, “provided a broader benefit than memory training because it also helped with mood, anxiety and coping skills.” The findings were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The study looked at 25 men and women with mild cognitive impairment, a form of memory loss that can progress to Alzheimer’s disease. The participants were all older than 55 and suffered from memory complaints like forgetting names and appointments, misplacing things and not recognizing faces.They underwent memory tests and brain scans at the beginning of the study, and again at the end, three months later.
Eleven of the study participants got an hour a week of brain training, involving mentally challenging computer games and puzzles, and spent 20 minutes a day doing the exercises. Other research has shown that intellectually stimulating tasks like reading, writing or doing crossword puzzles may help to strengthenconnections between brain cells and protect against Alzheimer’s. [See the alzinfo.org story, “Crossword Puzzles May Be Good for the Brain,” at https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/prevention/crossword-puzzles-may-be-good-for-the-brain-but-scientists-arent-sure-why/ ]
The remaining 14 participants took a one-hour weekly yoga class, and meditated 20 minutes a day. The yoga offered was Kundalini yoga, which incorporates body movement, breathing exercises and chanting. The mediation program, called KirtanKriya, involves chanting, hand movements and the visualization of light, and has long been practiced in India as a way to boost cognitive skills.
After 12 weeks, both groups showed improvements in memory and verbal skills. They were better able to complete tasks like remembering names and lists of words. MRI brain scans showed [significant? Perhaps better say: might suggest] improvements among brain connections as well.
But the yoga group showed additional improvements in tests that measure visual-spatial memory skills like navigating or remembering locations. They also showed less anxiety and better coping skills and resilience to stress.
Earlier research by Dr. Lavretsky’s group has shown that meditation may be good for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s as well. Caregivers taught meditation showed lower levels of stress and better coping skills. They also showed clear reductions in levels of various proteins linked to inflammation, which scientists increasingly recognize as a contributor to heart disease and other chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease. [See the alzinfo.org story, “How Meditation May Help Against Alzheimer’s,” at https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/meditation-alzheimers/ ]
The researchers acknowledge that the current study was small, and the results need to be replicated in larger studies. But, it is very promising to observe these effects, especially after only 12 yoga sessions. In any case, Dr. Lavretsky said, “If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness.”
Combining a yoga and meditation program with brain-training exercises, along with regular physical exercise like walking and eating a heart-healthy diet, may be most effective of all.
By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Source: Eyre, Harris A.; Acevedo, Bianca; Yang, Hongyu; et al: “Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study.” The Journal of Alzheimer’s DiseaseVolume 52, No. 2, pages 673-684, May 10, 2016