A results of a study led by University of California – Los Angeles Department of Psychiatry were recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (http://www.j-alz.com/) and suggest that yoga and meditation may reduce older adults’ risk of mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, presents in older adults as changes in memory or thinking. Although these changes may be noticeable, they do not interfere with a person’s day-to-day activities. However, MCI is considered a precursor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/basics/complications/con-20026392).
The results of the UCLA study are encouraging and exciting! The study included 25 participants aged 55 and older. At the beginning and the end of the study, participants’ cognitive function and brain activity were measured through MRI imaging and the completion of memory tests. Then for 12 weeks, 14 of the participants took part in a 1-hour Kundalini yoga class once a week and practiced Kirtan Kriya meditation for 20 minutes a day. The practice of Kundalini yoga uses breathing techniques, meditation and chanting. Kirtan Kriya meditation is regularly practiced in India to maintain cognitive functioning and uses chanting, hand movements, and light visualization.
The remaining study group participated in 1 hour of memory enhancement training through activities such as crossword puzzles and computer games once a week for 12 weeks, and spent 20 minutes a day completing memory exercises.
At the conclusion of the 12 weeks, the researchers found that both groups showed improvements in verbal memory skills – ability to remember names and lists of words. But greater improvements in visual-spatial memory skills – the ability to navigate and remember locations – were shown in the group which practiced yoga and meditation. The improvements in verbal and visual-spatial memory correlated with changes in brain connectivity.
Additionally, results found that, the yoga-meditation group did better in terms of levels of anxiety and depression and coping skills. As those who care for the elderly know, people can become anxious and depressed when they recognize that their memory and cognitive functioning is changing. This study indicate that yoga and meditation may be an effective strategy to combat these symptoms and to slow the progression of MCI. An alternative to adding medication to address anxiety and depression is refreshing. Also, yoga and meditation does not require physical exertion – it is available to all.