Can meditation prevent dementia?

After using the ENRICH® calculator, which is the first step of our all-in-one brain health package, and making the recommended adjustments to improve and sustain brain-healthy behavior, you may be searching for additional strategies to address your dementia risk. Recently meditation has received some attention in the media for its potential brain protective properties. This begs the question: Can meditation address dementia risk?

In the past, meditation has been dismissed as “mystical” and referred to as a “pseudoscience,” and while it’s true that meditation may not be for everyone, it does appear to have benefits that are particularly relevant to aging populations. Regular practice has been shown to positively impact both the structure and function of the brain. For example, studies show that eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction leads to increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, a part of the limbic system of the brain that plays an important role in learning and memory. Furthermore, there is evidence that long-term meditation practice helps preserve the brain’s volume of grey matter, the tissue that contains neurons. While there is still a natural degeneration process that comes with aging, meditation seems to slow this process.

What does this mean for everyday activities that depend on a healthy brain? There is evidence that the following cognitive skills are positively impacted by meditation: cognitive flexibility, memory, verbal fluency, attentional shift, and speed of processing. Each of these skills plays an important role in everyday activities of daily living, such as balancing a check book or planning your daily schedule.

It is less clear how meditation works with regard to preservation of brain health. One theory is that meditation cultivates a state of relaxation, which has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. This reduces risk of hypertension, which is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Another theory is that meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, improves the brain’s defense against chronic inflammation, which is caused by protracted activation of the immune system in response to stress. Studies show that the practice of mindfulness-based techniques teaches practitioners to adopt a calmer, less reactive approach to their everyday lives, which helps them adapt to stress without experiencing chronic brain inflammation.  All of this means that meditation could be a brain-healthy behavior that can help you to address dementia risk.

Can you say Om? Meditation may not be for everyone, but it does appear that people who choose to meditate and cultivate mindfulness tend to benefit from it. Meditation can be one of many strategies that use to take control of your brain health and address dementia risk. Brain health is a vital sign – so become proactive with brain-healthy behaviors, starting today.

Madeleine Boudreau