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Elderly taking MBSR improve verbal recall and mental health

Posted 08.24.2017 | by AMRA

Elderly anxiety and depression sufferers often report subjective problems with memory and cognition. They also perform more poorly on objective measures of short-term memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to ignore irrelevant cues while focusing on a task. Stress can play an important role in worsening anxiety and depression and also in degrading cognitive function.

There is evidence that cortisol, a hormone secreted during stress, can have a harmful effect on brain cells in the hippocampus, which may in turn negatively affect memory and cognition. Reducing stress may therefore yield a double benefit: reducing anxiety and depression, and improving memory and cognition.

Wetherell et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychiatry] explored whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could improve clinical symptoms and cognitive functioning better than a control group in elderly people suffering from anxiety and/or depression who also experience subjective cognitive difficulties.

The researchers randomly assigned 103 elderly patients (average age = 72 years; 75% Female; 83% Caucasian) with clinical diagnoses of anxiety and/or depressive disorders and with subjective cognitive complaints to either an 8-week group MBSR intervention or an 8-week Health Education control intervention. The Health Education groups met for the same frequency and duration as the MBSR groups, but focused on understanding and managing anxiety and depression, eating well, managing medications, and communicating with one’s heath care providers.

Patients were assessed at baseline, at the end of the intervention, and at 3-and-6-month follow-ups. Outcomes were assessed on measures of psychiatric symptoms, verbal memory, verbal fluency, the ability to ignore distracting cues and stay focused on a task, mindfulness (as measured by the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised), and average peak salivary cortisol.

Despite randomization, the health […]

August 24th, 2017|News|

New blood marker of Alzheimer’s disease improved by MBSR

Posted 07.19.2017 | by AMRA

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive brain disease affecting some five million older Americans. Given the profound personal, social, and economic costs of this disease, scientists are seeking ways to prevent its occurrence and progression. One avenue of investigation involves a protein called Repressor Element 1-Silencing Transcription Factor or REST. REST plays an important role in helping developing cells differentiate as neurons and protects aging brain cells from stress and toxicity.

People with Alzheimer’s have low REST levels, while older adults who retain their cognitive function well into their 90s and 100s have high REST levels. Also, older adults who show neurological changes typical of Alzheimer’s do not progress to show behavioral signs of the disease if their REST levels remain high.

Can raising REST levels reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s? Ashton et al. [Translational Psychiatry] explored this question using a new method for measuring REST in blood plasma. First they investigated whether this new REST measure in blood could discriminate between different levels of Alzheimer’s risk. Second, they studied whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) improved REST levels in a population at risk for potentially developing Alzheimer’s.

The first study compared plasma REST levels in three groups of older (65 years or older) adults: 65 adults with Alzheimer’s, 65 adults with mild cognitive impairment, and 65 healthy adults. There was a significant difference between the Alzheimer’s group and both the healthy and mildly cognitively impaired groups. Mean REST levels were lowest for Alzheimer’s patients (112 pg mL-1) and highest for healthy controls (199 pg mL-1), with mildly cognitive impaired patients measuring in between (194 pg mL-1). Those mildly cognitive impaired who remained stable over time had higher […]

July 19th, 2017|News|

Older adult cognitive decline improves after mindfulness program

Posted 05.19.2016 | by AMRA


Older adults who complain of subjective cognitive decline (SCD) often appear normal in day-to-day functioning and on clinical assessment, but 60% of them eventually develop either mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease. This makes older adults with SCD a prime target for interventions aimed at preventing or slowing cognitive decline.

Smart et al. [Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease] conducted a randomized controlled pilot study to test the effects of mindfulness training versus a psycho-educational control on measures of attention, brain structure and function, and self-reported cognitive complaints, mood, and mindfulness in adults with SCD.

A sample of 23 healthy older adults and 15 older adults with SCD (predominantly Caucasian men and women, average age = 70) were randomly assigned to either an 8-week mindfulness training based on MBSR that was tailored for older adults, or a 5-week program that provided education on memory and aging, situational factors that affect memory, and strategies to compensate for memory difficulties. Participants completed self-report measures of memory complaints, depression, and mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, or FFMQ).

They also completed an attentional capacity task that required them to be vigilant and respond or withhold responding to letters presented on a computer screen. An electroencephalogram (EEG) recorded the magnitude of their brain’s P3 evoked response potentials (ERPs) while performing this task. Higher P3 ERPs reflect increased attentional capacity and are known to decrease in amplitude with SCD. All these measures were obtained both before and after intervention. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was also included to detect changes in total brain volume from pre- to post- intervention.

Adults with SCD reported a greater number of subjective memory complaints and had a […]

May 19th, 2016|News|

Meditation aids attention of older adults, brain regions identified

Posted 02.24.2016 | by AMRA


As we mature into old age, our ability to remain focused and quickly choose the correct response from a set of competing responses tends to diminish. Can mindfulness training help us retain our attention, executive control and emotional regulation as we age? Malinowski, et al [Mindfulness] randomly assigned mature adults to either mindfulness training or an active comparison group, and assessed the changes in their ability to perform a task that demanded focused attention, executive control, and emotional regulation while their brain activity was measured.

The researchers assigned a predominantly female cohort of 56 British older adults (average age = 64) to either mindfulness training or a “brain training” comparison condition. Mindfulness training entailed four 90-minute group-training sessions in breath-focused concentration meditation with instructions for maintaining a non-judgmental, non-elaborative attitude. Mindfulness trainees practiced meditation at home at least 10 minutes a day, five days a week, over 8 weeks.

The comparison condition met as a group for an equivalent amount of time. Both groups entailed psychoeducation, group discussion, and skills practice, but the “brain training” group practiced mental arithmetic instead of meditation, both in the groups and at home.

All participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and a Stroop task, before and after training. The Stroop task required participants to count the number of words they saw that were presented on a computer screen. Sometimes the words’ meanings interfered with their counting (e.g., when the word “two” appeared three times) or had emotional connotations that could slow their processing speed. Participants needed to ignore the meanings and stay focused on the task.

Electroencephalography (EEG) concurrently measured the participants’ evoked response potentials (ERPs), which are […]

February 24th, 2016|News|

Adding mindfulness to meds helps Alzheimer’s patients

Posted 01.22.2016 | by AMRA


Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative illness characterized by short-term memory loss, disorientation, and impairments in socialization, self-care and behavioral regulation. It is primarily a disease of old age and affects over 5,000,000 Americans. Medications are often prescribed to manage its symptoms, but no medication has been shown to halt or delay the progression of the disease.

Given the enormous personal, social, and economic consequences of this illness, researchers are actively seeking novel ways to slow and forestall its devastating effects.

In a randomized clinical trial, Quintana-Hernández et al. [Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease] compared the effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Alzheimer’s Stimulation (MBAS) program in maintaining cognitive functioning in Alzheimer’s patients to that of two current non-pharmacological interventions for Alzheimer’s disease; namely, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) and Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST).

The researchers randomly assigned 168 Spanish-speaking men and women with Alzheimer’s Disease who were Canary Islands residents to one of four treatment groups: 1) Medication Alone, 2) MBAS+Medication, 3) PMR+Medication, or 4) CST+Medication. The medication was donepezil, a cholinesterase inhibitor that has a small beneficial effect on cognition in Alzheimer’s patients but does not slow or halt the progression of the disease.

All of the non-pharmacological treatments were delivered three times weekly in 90-minute group sessions that continued over a two-year period.

MBAS was based on MBSR, Mindfulness-Based Elder Care, Kirtan Kriya technique, chair yoga, and multi-sensory stimulation. The MBAS patients’ caretakers also assisted the patients in brief moments of mindfulness during home practice.

The CST group employed visual imagery, errorless learning, spaced retrieval, encoding specificity, and external memory aids. The PMR group employed a standard 16 muscle group tensing and releasing sequence. Patient cognition was longitudinally assessed […]

January 22nd, 2016|News|

Motor symptoms from Parkinson’s Disease reduced with MBSR

Posted 06.24.2015 | by AMRA


Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in a neurological disorder affecting movement, cognition, and mood. It is caused by the loss of dopamine-secreting neurons deep within the brain. It is primarily managed with medication, but psychological factors like stress and depression can exacerbate its symptoms, and 40% of American PD patients turn to complementary and integrative medicine for help.

Pickut et al. [Parkinson’s Disease] conducted a randomized, controlled exploratory study of whether a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) can help reduce the disability and suffering associated with PD.

Thirty cognitively intact men and women with PD (mean age = 62) were randomly assigned to either an eight-week MBI closely following the MBSR protocol, or a treatment-as-usual control. Participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and rated their PD symptoms, depression, and quality of life at baseline and at eight-weeks. Their motor symptoms (e.g., tremor, rigidity, agility, gait) were rated by movement disorder specialists who were blind to treatment assignment.

The MBI participants showed a significant 20% decease in their objectively rated motor symptoms and a significant 13% increase on the FFMQ “Observe” scale. There were no significant group differences in self-rated depression or quality of life.

This is one of the first studies to explore the efficacy of a MBI in PD patients, and it supports the use of a MBI as a complementary treatment option. It is unclear whether the clinically meaningful decrease in motor symptoms seen in this study was due to either stress reduction, the MBI-induced grey matter growth seen in previous MBI research with PD patients, or the placebo effect. The study is limited by its small sample size and lack of active controls.


Pickut, B., […]

June 24th, 2015|News|

Can meditation protect the aging brain?

Posted : 01.15.2015 | by AMRA


The human brain starts atrophying in the third decade of life, losing an average of 5% of its volume in each succeeding decade. Any technique that can slow or reverse that trajectory might have important benefits in terms of maintaining brain structural integrity across the lifespan. Luders et al. [Frontiers in Psychology] compared magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brains of long-term meditators and a control group to determine if the correlations between age and gray matter volume differed between groups. Gray matter is the part of the brain consisting primarily of neuronal cell bodies, dendrites, and glial cells, in contrast to cerebral white matter, which consists mostly of myelinated axons.

The authors measured the volume of whole-brain gray matter and specific region gray matter in the MRI scans of 50 meditators (mean age = 50) with an average of 19 years of Zen, Vipassana, or Shamatha meditation experience – practices similar to those used in mindfulness based interventions. They then compared the gray matter volumes of the meditators with those of 50 age-matched controls drawn from a MRI database of normal adults.

Age was significantly negatively correlated with whole brain gray matter volume for both controls (r = -0.77) and meditators (r = -0.58), but the slope was significantly steeper for controls, with meditators showing less of a relationship between age and atrophy. Differences between controls and meditators were apparent in the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes, the midbrain, and the cerebellum.

There are a range of possible explanations for these results including enhanced dendritic and synaptic growth or reduced stress-related degradation in meditators, and pre-existing differences between people who choose […]

January 15th, 2015|News|

Reversing Age-Related Brain Decline

Posted from archive: 11.21.2013 | by AMRA


The human brain shrinks an average of five percent per decade after age forty. Luders [Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences] reviews the evidence for meditation’s neuropreservative and/or neuroplastic effects on normal age-related brain degeneration. She summarizes the results from three cross-sectional studies that compared age-related brain changes in meditators and non-meditators.

Of the studies reviewed: study 1 found that long-term vipassana meditators showed a lesser decrease in right frontal cortical thickness with age compared to non-meditators; study 2 found that zen meditators showed a lesser decrease in total gray matter volume with age compared to non, meditators; and study 3 found that a mixed group of vipassana, zen and shamatha meditators showed a lesser decrease in fractional anisotropy (a measure of axonal number, density, diameter, coherence and myelination) in 17 out of 20 brain fiber tracts compared to non-meditators.

Luders concludes that these studies provide encouraging preliminary evidence that meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse age-related brain decline, but stresses the need for future studies that (1) replicate findings using larger samples, (2) expand the spectrum of cerebral measures, (3) employ longitudinal designs, ideally with random assignment, (4) include neurocognitive measures, (5) examine the comparative efficacy of different types of meditation, and (6) explore how differences in the length, frequency, and regularity of meditation practice and the number of years one has been practicing influence these observed brain changes.


Luders, E. (2013). Exploring age-related brain degeneration in meditation practitioners. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307:82-88. [PMID: 23924195]

[Link to abstract]

January 24th, 2014|News|