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Mindfulness vs. cognitive training ups processing speed for MS

Posted 06.17.2020 | by AMRA

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system affecting around one million Americans. Depending on the areas in the brain and spinal cord involved, MS can cause alterations in sensation, balance, muscle strength, coordination, autonomic nervous system activity, mood, and cognition.

Cognitive symptoms may include impairments in attention, processing speed, working memory, and executive function. Computerized cognitive training is often employed in MS rehabilitation programs, but the results for improved cognitive function have been variable.

Mindfulness-based interventions offer potential promise in MS rehabilitation because of their proven effects on brain areas involved in attention and executive function. Manglani et al. [Neuropsychology] tested the efficacy of mindfulness training compared to computerized cognitive training and a wait-list control on improving working memory and processing speed among persons with MS.

The researchers randomly assigned 61 persons with MS (77% female; 72% Caucasian; average age = 46 years) to mindfulness training, computerized cognitive training, or a wait-list control. The four-week mindfulness training was an abbreviated version of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program involving the body scan, breath awareness, awareness of sensations, thoughts and emotions, and choiceless awareness. Patients met weekly in groups for two hours, and were encouraged to engage in 40 minutes of daily home mindfulness practice.

The computerized cognitive training group also met in groups every week for two hours over the course of four weeks. The first hour of each group was devoted to didactic material on cognitive deficits and allowed for group sharing of experiences. The second hour consisted of computer game playing designed to maximize working memory and processing speed. The games required increasing degrees of attention, identification of stimuli, […]

June 17th, 2020|News|

Cognitively impaired older adults improve memory with mindfulness

Posted 01.22.2020 | by AMRA

A diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) represents a degree of cognitive decline greater than what one might expect from normal aging but not severe enough to call for a diagnosis of dementia. While older adults with MCI show mild memory and word-finding difficulties, they remain capable of independent living. Nevertheless, they are at an increased risk for developing dementia, and clinicians are interested in developing ways to delay or prevent the onset or progression of dementia. MCI symptoms are often accompanied by decreased structural and functional brain connectivity, as diverse regions of the brain show greater difficulty in cross-communicating information and coordinating activity.

Prior research suggests that mindfulness practice enhances aspects of structural and functional brain connectivity in healthy adults. Fam et al. [Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences] examined whether mindfulness practice can also improve dynamic functional connectivity (changing patterns of functional connectivity over time) in older adults with MCI.

The researchers randomly assigned 47 meditation-naïve older adults (average age = 72 years; 72% female; 97% Chinese) diagnosed with MCI to a mindfulness awareness program or an active control. Mindfulness participants attended a series 12 weekly 40-minute group mindfulness training sessions and were encouraged to engage in daily home practice.

Control group participants attended a series of 12 weekly 40-minute talks on health-related topics including diet, sleep, exercise, and personal safety. Four mindfulness participants and 7 controls failed to complete the study, leaving a final analytic sample of 36 participants.

All participants underwent resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at baseline and three months later. Measures of the efficiency of brain information transmission were calculated. Higher efficiency is indicative of a shorter transmission time between disparate […]

January 22nd, 2020|News|

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|

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|

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|