Reduce Aging Cognitive Decline with Mindfulness

Reduce Aging Cognitive Decline with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


We know that approximately 50 percent of people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment—the intermediate stage between the expected declines of normal aging and the more serious cognitive deterioration associated with dementia—may develop dementia within five years.” – Rebecca Erwin Wells


The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities (cognition) which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving abilities. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. An encouraging new development is that mindfulness practices such as meditation training can significantly reduce these declines in cognitive ability. In addition, it has been found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.


Before active dementia occurs, patients show problems with attention, thinking, and memory known as mild cognitive impairment. Intervening at this point may be able to delay or even prevent full blown dementia, So, it is important to study the effectiveness of mindfulness training on older adults with mild cognitive impairment to improve their cognitive performance.


In today’s Research News article “The Effects of Mindfulness on Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Wong and colleagues recruited healthy older adults (> 60 years of age) who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and were meditation naïve. They participated in an 8-week, 1.5 hours per week, program of mindfulness training that included body scan meditation, breath meditation, loving kindness meditation, and everyday mindfulness practice. The participants were also encouraged to practice at home. They were measured before and after training and one year later for cognitive function, psychological health, mindfulness, mindfulness adherence, and daily living functionality.


They found that after training the participants had significant improvements in mindfulness and cognitive function. These improvements were no longer significant at the one year follow up. This appears, however, to be due to the level of continuing practice as the greater the amount of meditation practice during the 1-year follow-up period the greater the level of cognitive function. Indeed, those who practiced above the group average had significantly better cognitive performance at the 1-year follow-up than those who were below average in practicing.


These results suggest that mindfulness training produces significant cognitive benefits for elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairments. But continued practice is necessary to maintain the benefits. Hence, long-term mindfulness practice may be able to restrain further cognitive decline in these patients and may delay or prevent the onset of dementia. It is clear however, that continuing mindfulness practice is required.


So, reduce aging cognitive decline with mindfulness.


“What we do know is that long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” – Grace Bullock


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Wong, W. P., Coles, J., Chambers, R., Wu, D. B., & Hassed, C. (2017). The Effects of Mindfulness on Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease reports, 1(1), 181-193. doi:10.3233/ADR-170031




The current lack of an effective cure for dementia would exacerbate its prevalence and incidence globally. Growing evidence has linked mindfulness to cognitive and psychological improvements that could be relevant for mild cognitive impairment (MCI).


To investigate whether mindfulness practice can improve health outcomes of MCI.


The study is the first longitudinal mixed-methods observational study with a one-year follow-up period, that customized an eight-week group-based mindfulness training program for older adults with MCI (n = 14). Measures included cognitive function, psychological health, trait mindfulness, adherence to mindfulness practice, and everyday activities functioning as assessed at pre-intervention, post-intervention, and one-year follow-up. Repeated measures ANOVAs, Pearson’s correlation analyses, and Mann-Whitney U tests were performed.


The MCI participants showed significant improvements in cognitive function (p < 0.05) and trait mindfulness (p < 0.05) after completing the intervention. Between program intervention and one-year follow-up (59 weeks), positive correlations were found between their cognitive function (p < 0.05) and everyday activities functioning (p < 0.05) with the duration of mindfulness meditation; and between trait mindfulness and the level of informal mindfulness practice (p < 0.05). Those who meditated more during these 59 weeks, showed greater improvements in cognitive function (p < 0.05) and everyday activities functioning (p < 0.05), with large effect sizes at the one-year follow-up. Qualitative findings will be reported separately.


Long-term mindfulness practice may be associated with cognitive and functional improvements for older adults with MCI. Mindfulness training could be a potential efficacious non-pharmacological therapeutic intervention for MCI.

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