Dr. Campbell: Yoga and Meditation may help prevent dementia

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Dementia affects millions of Americans every year.

Mild cognitive impairment (mild pre-dementia) affects 20 percent of those over the age of 65. Of these, nearly 15 percent go on to develop clinical dementia every single year.

There are no good treatments to help prevent dementia-there are some activities such as crossword puzzles and other mentally challenging/stimulating activities that have been shown to decrease progression of dementia. Now researchers have found that yoga and meditation may also help prevent the onset of dementia.

Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases of dementia in the United States today. Nearly 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s-type dementia.

In the study, researchers enrolled 25 participants aged 55 and older and for 12 weeks, 14 of the participants took part in a one hour yoga class once a week and practiced a type of meditation for 20 minutes every day that involves chanting, hand movements and visualization.

The remaining 11 participants engaged in one 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 MRI scans-this allowed researchers to assess their cognitive function and brain activity.

Both groups showed improvements in verbal memory skills – the ability to remember names and lists of words – at the end of the 12 weeks.

However, the participants who practiced yoga and meditation demonstrated greater improvements in visual-spatial memory skills – the ability to navigate and remember locations – than those who engaged in memory enhancement training.

Additionally, the yoga/meditation group fared better than the memory enhancement training group when it came to levels of anxiety and depression, as well as coping skills and stress resilience. The MRI scans were repeated and rain activity, the researchers found that improvements in verbal memory and visual-spatial memory correlated with changes in brain connectivity.

As we age it is important to remain physically and mentally sharp. We can do this through exercise, good diets and also with participating in mentally stimulating activities. This study shows us the benefit of both memory activities as well as the positive benefits of yoga and meditation.

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