Mindfulness may improve cognition in older people

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In a new study from UCL, researchers found mindfulness may provide modest benefits to cognition, particularly among older adults.

They found that while mindfulness is typically geared towards improving mental health and well-being, it may also provide additional benefits to brain health.

The positive effects of mindfulness-based programs on mental health are already relatively well-established.

Here, the new findings suggest that a small benefit is also conferred to cognition, at least among older adults.

In the study, the team reviewed previously published studies of mindfulness, and identified 45 studies that fit their criteria, which incorporated a total of 2,238 study participants.

The majority of studies involved a certified instructor teaching participants techniques such as sitting meditation, mindful movement and body scan, generally on a weekly basis across six to 12 weeks, while also asking participants to continue the practices in their own time.

The researchers found that overall, mindfulness conferred a strong benefit to cognition.

They found that the effect was slightly stronger for people over 60, while there was not a significant effect for people under 60.

The team says executive function is known to decline with age among older adults; the improvement in people over 60 suggests that mindfulness may help guard against cognitive decline, by helping to maintain or restore executive function in late adulthood.

It might be easier to restore cognitive functions to previous levels, rather than to improve them beyond the developmental peak.

When they examined which aspects of cognition were affected, the researchers found that mindfulness was beneficial only to executive function, and more specifically, there was strong evidence of a small positive effect on working memory (which is one facet of executive function).

The researchers also analyzed whether mindfulness outperformed other ‘active interventions’ (such as brain training, relaxation, or other health or educational programs) or only when compared to people who were not offered any alternative treatment.

They found that cognitive benefits of mindfulness were only significant compared with an ‘inactive’ comparison.

The researchers say that more research is needed into which characteristics of mindfulness training may be more likely to confer cognitive benefits, or whether delivering interventions over longer periods, or in intensive retreat settings, might yield greater cognitive benefits.

If you care about cognitive health, please read studies about this exercise may help prevent cognitive decline in older people and findings of these two health problems may increase risk of cognitive decline.

For more information about cognition, please see recent studies about walnuts may slow cognitive decline in many older people and results showing two big risk factors for cognitive decline.

The study is published in Neuropsychology Review. One author of the study is Tim Whitfield.

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