Yoga, meditation may reduce dementia risk

Yoga, meditation may reduce dementia risk

ISLAMABAD: Completing a 3-month yoga and meditation course may reduce older adults’ risk of mild cognitive impairment - considered a precursor for development of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. This is the conclusion of a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Yoga and meditation were found to improve verbal and visual-spatial memory for older adults. The study was led by researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), including senior author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, of the Department of Psychiatry. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is characterized by noticeable changes in cognitive function, such as the development of memory and thinking problems.

Though these changes are not severe enough to interfere with a person's independence and day-to-day activities, symptoms can worsen with time, increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. According to the Alzheimer's Association, long-term studies indicate that around 10-20 percent of adults aged 65 and older are likely to have MCI. Of these adults, it is estimated that around 6-15 per cent develop dementia each year.

While there are currently no approved medications to treat MCI, experts recommend that older adults with the condition engage in mentally stimulating activities - such as crossword puzzles - in order to reduce their risk of dementia.

Now, Dr Lavretsky and colleagues say practicing yoga and meditation may be just as effective - if not better - for protecting cognitive function. For their study, the researchers enrolled 25 participants aged 55 and older. For 12 weeks, 14 of the participants took part in a 1-hour Kundalini yoga class once a week and practiced Kirtan Kriya meditation for 20 minutes every day.

Kundalini yoga is referred to as the "yoga of awareness," incorporating breathing techniques, meditation, and chanting. Kirtan Kriya meditation involves chanting, hand movements, and light visualization. Dr Lavretsky notes that this form of meditation has been practiced in India for hundreds of years as a way to maintain cognitive function in older adults.

The remaining 11 participants engaged in 1 hour of memory enhancement training - through activities such as crossword puzzles or computer games - once a week for 12 weeks, and they also spent 20 minutes a day completing memory exercises. At the beginning and end of the 12-week study period, all participants completed memory tests and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), enabling the researchers to assess their cognitive function and brain activity.