Yoga And Meditation Can Slow Alzheimer’s, Study Says

A new study looks at the positive effects yoga and meditation have on the brain.

Meditation image via shutterstock

Meditation image via shutterstock

Alzheimer’s is ranked as the sixth leading fatal disease in the United States, but there is no FDA approved medication that can slow the progression of the disease. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have now turned to yoga—already proven to be helpful in treating disorders—as a possible treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

Adults ages 55 to 90 were examined in the new study, 14 of whom were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment which can develop into dementia or Alzheimer’s. Participants were divided into two groups: one participated in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through meditation and yoga, and the other group, which was the control group, received standard cognitive impairment care. The group who practiced yoga met for two hours a week for eight weeks, took place in a day-long mindfulness retreat, and practiced yoga for 15 to 30 minutes at home daily.

Both before and after the study, all participants underwent a functional MRI scan at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Martinos Center to allow researchers to see any changes in brain activity over the course of the study. Researchers focused on the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, memory, and emotions, and known to atrophy as Alzheimer’s progresses.

The MRI scans showed that the group who participated in MBSR had improved brain function. While both groups experienced atrophy in the hippocampus, the MBSR group experienced significantly less.

Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells, senior author of the study who conducted this research as a fellow in Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel, said in a press release:

“This is a small study and more research is needed to further investigate these results, but we’re very excited about these findings because they suggest that MBSR may reduce hippocampal atrophy and improve functional connectivity in the same areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease. MBSR is a relatively simple intervention, with very little downside that may provide real promise for these individuals who have very few treatment options.”

While the study was unable to definitively draw conclusions based on the memory tests that were performed, researchers are confident that these results prove that yoga and meditation should be included as part of the treatment regiment for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.