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Cortical thickness ups in seniors after group-based mindfulness

Posted 02.26.2021 | by AMRA

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a decline in cognitive performance that is more severe than that of normal aging, yet less severe than that of dementia. Patients with MCI are at risk for developing dementia, and researchers are interested in treatments that can forestall or prevent the progression to dementia onset. Since mindfulness-based interventions are associated with improvements in attention and increases in brain gray matter cortical thickness, they may be able to help slow or prevent the progression to dementia.

Yu et al. [Journal of Psychiatric Research] compared changes in cognitive functioning and brain cortical thickness in older adults with MCI who participated in either a nine-month mindfulness-based intervention or a control group.

The researchers randomly assigned 54 Singaporean adults (average age=71; 74% female) diagnosed with MCI to either a mindfulness training or health education program. MCI diagnosis was based on subjective reports of cognitive difficulty and a battery of objective neuropsychological tests with final diagnosis made by expert panel consensus. Both interventions met in 45-minute group sessions on a weekly basis for the first 3 months, and then on a monthly basis for the final 6 months of the study.

The mindfulness program included exercises in focused sensory attention, the body scan, walking meditation, and gentle movement meditation. The health education control included didactic instruction on chronic illness, medication compliance, diet, exercise, and relaxation.

Participants were assessed at baseline, 3 months, and 9 months. Assessments included CT scans of the brain and neuropsychological measures of working memory (digit span), divided attention (a trail making task with interference), verbal memory, verbal fluency and, visuospatial processing. CT scans of the brain were evaluated for region […]

February 26th, 2021|News|

Mindfulness app yields less daytime fatigue in poor sleepers

Posted 02.23.2021 | by AMRA

A majority of Americans report sleep problems, and over 50 million Americans meet diagnostic criteria for a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders are associated with many impairments in daytime functioning such as work performance, fatigue, and sleepiness. Sleep aid medications can help in the short-term but are not recommended for long-term use.

Cognitive-behavioral therapies show promise yet can be costly and difficult to access in some regions. Since stress and worry are known to contribute to sleep difficulties, mindfulness training may also aid in resolving problems sleeping.

Huberty et al. [PLOS One] tested the effects of a brief daily use of a mindfulness meditation smartphone app compared to waitlist controls on sleep disturbance symptoms among people reporting elevated insomnia symptoms.

The researchers randomly assigned 263 participants (average age=45 years; 75% female; 57% Caucasian) reporting elevated insomnia symptoms (an Insomnia Severity Index Score >10) to an app-based mindfulness training or a waitlist control. Many of the participants reported having received prior diagnoses such as insomnia (25%), restless leg syndrome (22%), sleep apnea (16%), night terrors (12%) and narcolepsy (5%).

The mindfulness group was assigned to meditate at least 10 minutes daily using the smartphone Calm app over an 8-week period. The Calm app is a commercially available app containing guided meditations derived from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Vipassana meditation.

Self-report ratings of daytime fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and cognitive and somatic pre-sleep arousal were assessed at baseline, mid-treatment (4 weeks) and post-treatment (8 weeks). Participants in the mindfulness group also kept a daily sleep quality diary for the 8-week period.

The results showed that the mindfulness group spent an average of 15 minutes per day using the Calm app. […]

February 23rd, 2021|News|

After 10 days of mindfulness app, heart shows less stress

Posted 01.25.2021 | by AMRA

The human heart beats about 100,000 times per day. The time interval between each heartbeat changes from moment to moment. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of these time fluctuations between heartbeats over time. When relaxed, our hearts show greater momentary beat-to-beat variation, and so greater HRV. This is due to the predominance of parasympathetic over sympathetic nervous system activity when we are not under stress. Researchers consider increases in HRV to be an objective measure of stress reduction.

Preliminary studies show mindfulness meditation increases HRV. However, these studies often rely on one-time measurements, leaving little known about the persistence of HRV changes over time. Kirk et al. [PLOS One] studied short- and longer-term changes in HRV before, during, and after an app-based mindfulness training compared to two control groups. The study is unique in obtaining HRV measures in participants’ home environments rather than in a laboratory setting.

The researchers randomly assigned 90 Danish participants (average age = 37 years; 70% female) to a 10-day mindfulness training using the Headspace app, a 10-day app-based music listening control condition, or a no-intervention control. The Headspace guided meditation sessions were 20-minutes in length on days 1-5, and 30-minutes in length on days 6-10. Mindfulness training included focused-attention on the breath and body, awareness of mind-wandering, and developing a non-judgmental attitude.

The music listening app consisted of a playlist of 20 two- to four-minute music tracks offered in 20- and 30-minute installments. The inactive control group conducted their lives as usual during the 10-day intervention period.

All participants had their HRVs continuously monitored using a wearable device while going about their normal daily activities for 48 hours […]

January 25th, 2021|News|

Brain and immune changes in cancer survivors after mindfulness

Posted 01.19.2021 | by AMRA

Research shows that mindfulness practice can reduce pro-inflammatory biomarkers related to illness onset and disease progression. Little is known, however, about how meditation-induced changes in inflammation are connected to brain activity. Mindfulness training can reduce fear in response to threat by reducing activity in the amygdala. It can also increase or decrease response to various rewards by modifying activity in the ventral striatum. Fear reduction and reward enhancement are important aspects of how mindfulness facilitates well-being.

Dutcher et al. [Psychoneuroimmunology] studied whether meditation-induced changes in brain activity were correlated with changes in pro-inflammatory biomarkers among breast cancer survivors.

The researchers assigned 22 female breast cancer survivors who had completed primary treatment (average age = 47 years; 60% white) to a Mindfulness Awareness Practices program developed by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. Participants met in weekly 2-hour groups over 6 weeks. Class sessions included didactic material on mindfulness, relaxation, and mind-body relationships, and experiential practice with a variety of meditation techniques to cultivate positive emotions.

Participant blood was collected by venipuncture before and after intervention to quantify levels of two pro-inflammatory biomarkers, the cytokine Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP). Participants also underwent fMRI brain scans before and after intervention.

Participants engaged in two tasks while being scanned. The first task, intended to stimulate amygdala activity, was a threat reactivity task involving viewing images of threatening facial expressions interspersed with an emotionally neutral task. The second, intended to stimulate ventral striatum activity, was a reward reactivity task involving viewing positively emotionally-toned images of landscapes, sunsets, smiling faces interspersed with neutrally emotionally-toned images of common household objects.

Results showed the women reported significantly decreased depression (d=-0.57) and […]

January 19th, 2021|News|

Mindfulness primer boosts physician communication skills

Posted 12.22.2020 | by AMRA

Delivering bad news to patients is one of the many challenges physicians face. The exchange can be emotionally taxing for both the physician and patient, and if communicated poorly, can lead to misunderstanding, emotional devastation, and low treatment compliance. Cultivating a mindful state before delivering bad news may potentially help physicians communicate bad news more skillfully.

Mengin et al. [Journal of Surgical Education] conducted a pilot study to test if a brief guided mindfulness meditation could improve bad news communication skills in medical residents.

The researchers randomized 53 French ear, nose, and throat (ENT) residents to a brief mindfulness meditation and a control condition. Participants in both conditions attended a 45-minute lecture on how to communicate bad news to patients. After the lecture they completed self-report measures of anxiety, fear of evaluation, and mindfulness (Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, MAAS).

The residents completed a bad news consultation training session that consisted of preparation, simulation, and post-simulation phases. The preparation phase included having residents self-rate their stress and self-confidence and then listen to either a 5-minute guided mindfulness meditation audio track or an information-only control audio track on the definition of atoms.

After listening to the audio tracks, residents again rated their stress and self-confidence. In the simulation phase, residents engaged in an 8-minute simulated consultation in which they disclosed a diagnosis of laryngeal cancer to a person acting as a patient.

A psychiatrist and ENT specialist blind to the resident’s study group rated each resident on skill performance. Ratings were made for respect, efficacy, knowledge, communication, and overall impression.

The evaluators also passed or failed each resident based on their belief that the resident was now ready to […]

December 23rd, 2020|News|

MBSR better than stress management for heath worker distress

Posted 12.17.2020 | by AMRA

Work-related stress is a major cause of employee dissatisfaction, absenteeism, turnover, and ill-health. Hospital healthcare workers face a number of significant work-related stresses including the physical, cognitive, and emotional demands of caring for seriously ill people. Hospitals can benefit from interventions designed to reduce occupational stress, retain personnel, and prevent burnout.

Errazuriz et al. [Journal of Psychiatric Research] tested the efficacy of a mindfulness intervention on hospital healthcare worker distress when compared to a stress management course or waitlist control.

The researchers randomly assigned 105 Chilean non-physician hospital healthcare workers (average age = 40 years; 98% female) to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a stress management course, or a waitlist control. Twenty-three percent of participants met the pretest cut-off criteria for being psychologically distressed.

MBSR and stress management groups met in 2-hour weekly group sessions for 8 weeks. The MBSR intervention followed the usual MBSR protocol minus the all-day retreat. The stress management course was a pre-existing hospital program comprised of lectures, interpersonal support and experiential activities on topics such as visualizing strengths, relaxation, self-care, resilience, and seeking social support.

Participants were assessed at baseline, after intervention, and at 4-month follow-up on self-report measures of general and occupational psychological distress, job satisfaction, perceived stress, and mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, FFMQ). Cortisol in saliva, a stress hormone, was collected three times over the course of a single day at baseline and post- intervention.

Participant attrition was high, with 73% completing at least one measure at post-intervention, and 50% completing at least one measure at follow-up.

Immediate post-intervention results showed the MBSR group had significantly less distress and reported higher job satisfaction than the stress management and waitlist […]

December 17th, 2020|News|

MBCT reduces symptoms of children hospitalized with cancer

Posted 11.30.2020 | by AMRA

Children with cancer often have significant cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and academic problems. These result not only from the illness itself, but also the anxieties associated with diagnosis and prognosis, the negative side-effects of oncology treatments, and the lengthy separations from familiar settings and social supports entailed by hospitalization. Psychosocial interventions are needed that can more effectively bolster children’s resilience over the course of arduous treatment.

Abedini et al. [Mindfulness] assessed the value of a modified version of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C) in reducing internalizing psychological problems (anxiety, depression, and somatization) and attentional problems in school-age children undergoing hospitalization for cancer.

The researchers randomly assigned 40 Iranian children hospitalized for cancer (age range = 11-13 years; 53% male) who met the diagnostic criteria for acute stress disorder and showed elevated internalizing and attentional problems to a modified version of MBCT-C or to treatment as usual. The children were continuously hospitalized throughout the length of the intervention.

MBCT-C was delivered in the Farsi language to small groups of 2-4 participants meeting 5 times a week. The standard MBCT-C protocol was modified to meet the children’s physical, motivational, and attentional needs and the demands of the hospital schedule. Group sessions were shortened to 45 minutes each, delivered over a shortened 4-week time-course, and without the usual raisin, yoga, and mindful movement meditations.

Treatment as usual included limited medical social worker support and a playroom available for 2 hours daily. Children were assessed before and after treatment and at 2-month follow-up for internalizing behavioral problems and attentional difficulties using a parent-completed behavioral checklist, and a child-completed self-report inventory.

The results showed significantly greater reductions in parent-rated (η2=.53) and […]

November 30th, 2020|News|

Mindfulness app sustains attention after cold temperature stressor

Posted 11.17.2020 | by AMRA

Many critical tasks in daily life require sustained attention under stressful circumstances (e.g., air traffic control, combat, and emergency medical response) despite the fact that stress can deplete attention by overtaxing cognitive resources. Lapses of attention increase under conditions of acute stress.

Mindfulness training can have beneficial effects on attention and stress, and researchers are interested in knowing the degree to which it can prevent stress-induced attentional impairment. Piil et al. [Journal of Cognitive Enhancement] tested the effects of mindfulness training compared to cognitive performance training on sustained attention following a stressor.

The researchers randomly assigned 48 Danish university students and staff members (average age = 38 years; 58% female) to either 30 days of mindfulness training using the Headspace app, or 30 days of cognitive training using the NeuroNation app. Headspace is a meditation application that teaches core mindfulness skills through guided audio meditations that include mindful breathing, open monitoring, and body scanning. NeuroNation is a cognitive training application consisting of short games intended to strengthen working memory, perceptual accuracy, verbal and arithmetic skills, and logical reasoning.

Participants were instructed to use the apps 10 minutes daily for 10 days, 15 minutes daily for the next 10 days, and 20 minutes daily for the final 10 days.

At baseline and after completing one month of training, participants were exposed to a cold pressor stress task and then immediately asked to perform a sustained attention task. The cold pressor task in known to increase stress as measured by increases in sympathetic nervous system arousal (heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormones). Participants were instructed to put their non-dominant hand in a tank of circulating ice water […]

November 17th, 2020|News|

Autonomic activity while meditating linked to less opioid use

Posted 10.28.2020 | by AMRA

The over-prescription of opioids for chronic pain is a significant risk factor for drug abuse and addiction. About one-fifth of chronic pain patients double their opioid dosage over the course of two years, and so primary care psychological interventions are needed to reduce the risk of eventual misuse and dependence.

In a previous clinical trial, a mindfulness training program for opioid users reduced pain and opioid dosage in chronic pain patients. Garland et al. [American Psychologist] conducted a secondary analysis of that clinical trial, now examining whether physiological changes in heart rate variability (HRV) predict opioid dose reduction. HRV is the variation of time between each heartbeat and serves as a biomarker for increased autonomic nervous system self-regulation. Greater HRV is associated with relaxation and greater emotional and behavioral self-control.

The researchers randomly assigned 95 primary care patients who were prescribed opioids for the management of chronic musculoskeletal pain (66% female; 90% Caucasian; average age = 57 years) to Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) or a support group. Both MORE and support groups were delivered once weekly for 2 hours across 8 weeks.

MORE included didactics and practice in mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and savoring naturally occurring rewards that included 15 minutes a day of home practice in these skills. Emphasis was placed on making the skills relevant to substance abuse, pain, stress reduction and self-regulation. The support group included nondirective counseling, social support, home journaling, and discussions of chronic pain, stigma, and stress.

Daily opioid dosage before and after intervention was assessed using retrospective self-report and prescription data from the medical record. After intervention, HRV was measured via electrocardiogram during a 5-minute baseline recording and a […]

October 28th, 2020|News|

School-based mindfulness aids child attention, brain connectivity

Posted 10.22.2020 | by AMRA

Children who have a greater cognitive capacity to sustain attention often perform better in school. Cognitive capacities such as increased attentional control can result from mindfulness training, as shown previously in samples of children. Little is known about the brain activity that links such training to sustained attention in children.

A promising mechanism to test is the functional relationship between areas of the brain that support sustained attention (the Central Executive Network, CEN) and mind wandering (the Default Mode Network, DMN). The activity of these two networks is positively correlated in very young children, and becomes increasingly anticorrelated as children develop the capacity to sustain attention and mature into adulthood.

Bauer et al. [Human Brain Mapping] tested the effects of an in-school mindfulness training on sustained attention performance as well as CEN and DMN brain activity in school children.

The researchers randomly assigned 99 sixth-graders (70% female; 53% Caucasian; average age = 12 years) to in-school mindfulness or computer coding training. Mindfulness classes incorporated 5-15 minutes of mindfulness practice per class, involving attention to breathing, body sensations, sounds, thoughts and emotions. The classes also included didactic mindfulness instruction, group discussion, and instructor feedback.

The coding intervention taught children to use a novel programming language and was designed to train creative thinking, systematic reasoning, and collaborative group work. Both interventions took place 4 times per week in 45-minute sessions across 8 weeks.

All children completed a 15-minute sustained attention task before and after intervention that required them to press a button whenever a digit appeared on a computer screen, except when the digit was the number three. A subsample of 40 children had parental permission for brain […]

October 22nd, 2020|News|