Yoga and meditation practice may help minimise the cognitive and emotional problems that often precede Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study. Researchers found that yoga and meditation are even more effective than memory enhancement exercises like crosswords.
They found that a three-month course of yoga and meditation practice helped minimise the cognitive and emotional problems that often precede Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia – and that it was even more effective than the memory enhancement exercises that have been considered the gold standard for managing mild cognitive impairment.
“Memory training was comparable to yoga with meditation in terms of improving memory, but yoga provided a broader benefit than memory training because it also helped with mood, anxiety and coping skills,” said Helen Lavretsky from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US.
People with mild cognitive impairment are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, researchers said.
The study is the first to compare outcomes from yoga and meditation with those from memory training, which incorporates activities ranging from crossword puzzles to commercially available computer programmes. The research of 25 participants, all over the age of 55, measured changes not just in behaviour but also in brain activity.
Researchers studied participants who had reported issues with their memory, such as tendencies to forget names, faces or appointments or to misplace things. Subjects underwent memory tests and brain scans at the beginning and end of the study.
Out of the participants, 11 received one hour a week of memory enhancement training and spent 20 minutes a day performing memory exercises – verbal and visual association and other practical strategies for improving memory, based on research-backed techniques. The other 14 participants took a one-hour class once a week in yoga and practiced meditation at home for 20 minutes each day.
After 12 weeks, there were similar improvements among participants in both groups in verbal memory skills – which come into play for remembering names and lists of words. But those who had practiced yoga and meditation had better improvements than the other subjects in visual-spatial memory skills, which come into play for recalling locations and navigating while walking or driving.
The yoga-meditation group also had better results in terms of reducing depression and anxiety and improving coping skills and resilience to stress, which is important because coming to terms with cognitive impairment can be emotionally difficult, researchers said. The findings were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.