Meditation has emerged as an efficacious practice which improves attention, awareness and psychological health, say, researchers. Researchers from the Shri Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, have shown that supervised mindfulness meditation benefits patients with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease in terms of memory and orientation language and visual-spatial perception. It has potential as a therapeutic approach for management of cognitive decline, associated with neurological disorders, they say. Mild cognitive impairment & early form of Alzheimer’s is a condition in which memory deteriorates, but a person remains functionally independent. Among several treatment options, meditation is one non-invasive and cost-effective approach to bring relief to such patients.
The team of SCTIMST Additional Professor, Ramshekhar N. Menon, Dr C. Kesavadas, Dr Bejoy Thomas, and Dr Aley Alexander (all SCTIMST) and Dr S. Krishnan (Government Medical College, Thiruvanthapuram) conducted a two-phased study with separate objectives for each phase.
The first phase was designed to explore neural correlations of mindfulness and study regions of brain activation enhancements among seasoned mindfulness practitioners and healthy non-practitioners through Imaging Biomarkers, which is the first of its kind multimodality imaging work in dementia from India.
The second phase was planned to verify the changes in cognitive performance of patients with MCI prior to, as well as subsequent to, mindfulness training.
The team carried out cognitive retraining weekly for one hour and provided feedback on the performance of the retraining tasks at the end of each session.
The patients were given home-based tasks for practising during the rest of the days.
The researchers also developed a 10-week mindfulness meditation-based programme for patients called ‘Mindfulness Unified Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (MUCBT)’ training.
The results of initial resting-state fMRI indicated that compared to age-matched healthy subjects who did no form of meditation practice in their routine lifestyle, mindfulness practitioners establish increased connectivity, based on resting-state brain activity in medial prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula, regions of the brain which are concerned with emotion, stress response, attention as well as response of an individual to environmental stimuli and behaviour.
The results of the second phase suggest that mindfulness can activate neural correlates coupled with cognition, especially attention, behaviour, stress response, and reaction or adaptation to the environment, among other functions, and it suggests that consistent practice of mindfulness can mediate internal as well as external awareness and can subserve psychological and cognitive health.
Further, a rigorous mindfulness-based intervention programme has the potential to improve or stabilize cognitive functioning as well as the quality of life among patients suffering from MCI and early Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers said.