Critter Corner: Meditation and Alzheimer’s

Dear Baxter,

My sister meditates daily. She told me that, among other benefits, it helps prevent Alzheimer’s. Is this true? Do you know of any research about this?

Thanks for your help!

Maddy Tayshun

Dear Maddy,

A new study has found that intense concentration and relaxation could lead to a growth of new brain cells, protecting against the brain shrinkage linked to Alzheimer’s.

In the study, scientists evaluated brain scans of 50 American men and women who meditated regularly and brain scans of 50 Americans who did not regularly meditate and found a startling difference. The brain scans of those who did not meditate showed a brain age the same as the person’s actual age. However, the brains of people who meditated were on average, 7 years younger than the person’s actual age –  so that a 50-year-old person who regularly meditated showed a brain that a 43-year-old person would have. According to researchers, these findings suggest that meditation is beneficial for brain preservation, with a slower rate of brain aging throughout life.

Through various studies, researchers have found these benefits of meditation, when it comes to staving off Alzheimer’s:

1.Those who practice meditation and yoga have less atrophy in the hippocampus, which is shrunken in people with Alzheimer’s.
2.Meditation protects our brain by increasing protective tissues.
3.Meditation can help seniors feel less isolated and lonely, two feelings which lead to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
4.There is a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer’s. Meditation helps participants feel calmer, lessening perceived stress and the risk of Alzheimer’s.
5.Meditation reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which has been known to increase the risk of developing dementia.
6.Meditation increases cortical thickness and grey matter which slows the aging rate of the brain. Cortical thickness has been associated with decision making and memory.

Researchers say that it is not clear exactly how meditation can protect the brain except that the mental processes in meditation trigger the growth of new brain cells.

Additionally, researchers acknowledge that people who meditate more regularly may lead healthier lifestyles in general so the effects of meditation on brain health are hard to isolate. The study was recently published in NeuroImage.

Hope this is helpful!

Baxter

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