Improves cognition and memory with neurodegenerative diseases

Newberg, A. B., et al. (2014). Meditation and neurodegenerative diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307(1), 112-123. Full text.

Abstract. Neurodegenerative diseases pose a significant problem for the healthcare system, doctors, and patients. With an aging population, more and more individuals are developing neurodegenerative diseases and there are few treatment options at the present time. Meditation techniques present an interesting potential adjuvant treatment for patients with neurodegenerative diseases and have the advantage of being inexpensive, and easy to teach and perform.

There is increasing research evidence to support the application of meditation techniques to help improve cognition and memory in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. This review discusses the current data on meditation, memory, and attention, and the potential applications of meditation techniques in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Importance of mindfulness in medical setting

Hassed, C. (2014). Mindfulness: why attention matters. Pathology, 46, S3. Abstract.

The importance of training attention is not a new idea and it may be the single most important life-skill we ever develop [as medical practitioners]. Attention training is an important aspect of what is called mindfulness which is a form of meditation, a way of living, and a foundation for new approaches to psychotherapy such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

Mindfulness-based approaches are receiving considerable interest from a number of disciplines on the back of an emerging evidence base. Particular areas of interest in the basic sciences include studies on neuroplasticity, genetics, and immunity. But it is the applications which are of particular importance in areas such as enhanced mental health, improved executive functioning, greater mental flexibility and memory, and improved physical health. In the medical setting it is also attracting interest because of its capacity to enhance clinical performance and reduce burnout.

Increases autobiographical memory performance

Saunders, J., Barawi, K., & McHugh, L. (2013). Mindfulness increases recall of self-threatening information. Consciousness and Cognition, 22(4), 1375-1383. Abstract.

Highlights

  • Mindfulness improves recall of self threatening information.
  • Mindfulness improves recall of other self related information.
  • Mindfulness has general memory improving effects.

Previous research has suggested that we tend to show impaired memory for self-threatening information, an effect known as mnemic neglect. Mnemic neglect is believed to be due to shallow processing or inhibition of self-threatening information. Mnemic neglect, however, could also be an example of experiential avoidance and mindfulness training has been demonstrated to counteract experiential avoidance.

The current study was designed to negate experiential avoidance on a memory task via mindfulness training and attempt to increase recall of self-threatening information. Participants were exposed to a short intervention, either mindfulness or unfocused attention, before being instructed to read and later recall self-referent behaviors.

The findings indicated that recall of self-threatening and other self-referent information was increased following the mindfulness but not unfocused attention intervention. The utility of mindfulness as a strategy for negating the experiential avoidance normally associated with self-threatening information and increasing memory performance are discussed.

Helps improve cognition and memory in patients with neurodegenerative diseases

Newberg, A. B., Serruya, M., Wintering, N., Moss, A. S., Reibel, D., & Monti, D. A. (2013). Meditation and neurodegenerative diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Epub ahead of publication. Abstract.

Neurodegenerative diseases pose a significant problem for the healthcare system, doctors, and patients. With an aging population, more and more individuals are developing neurodegenerative diseases and there are few treatment options at the present time. Meditation techniques present an interesting potential adjuvant treatment for patients with neurodegenerative diseases and have the advantage of being inexpensive, and easy to teach and perform.

There is increasing research evidence to support the application of meditation techniques to help improve cognition and memory in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. This review discusses the current data on meditation, memory, and attention, and the potential applications of meditation techniques in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Increases gray matter concentration

Hölzel, B.K., et al. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191 (1), 36-43. Full text (unedited manuscript).

From the Abstract: Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders.

Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre-post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program.

Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls.

The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Improves performance of multiple tasks

In a paper published in Proceedings of Graphics Interface, researchers suggest that meditation training can help people working with information stay on tasks longer with fewer distractions and also improves memory and reduces stress.

The researchers recruited three groups of managers for the study. One received eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training; another received eight weeks of body relaxation training. Members of the control group received no training at first, then after eight weeks were given the same training as the first group.

Before and after each eight-week period, the participants were given a stressful test of their multitasking abilities to measure their speed, accuracy and the extent to which they switched tasks. Participants’ self-reported levels of stress and memory while performing the tasks were also noted.

The results were significant: read more.