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Can Meditation And Yoga Really Slow The Progression Of Dementia?

The Huffington Post

Taking some time out of your hectic week to put your stresses behind you and meditate may actually help preserve your mind, a new study suggests.

Researchers have long known that meditation changes the brains of those who practice it, but now a study conducted at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows practicing stress-reducing meditation and yoga can actually slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other dementia's.

The study looked at 14 adults between 55 and 90 with mild cognitive impairments over a course of eight weeks. The control group received regular care while the study group practiced mindfulness through yoga and meditation at least two hours per week.

After eight weeks, the study group experienced less overall atrophy in the hippocampus and better connectivity in other parts of the brain responsible for memory. The hippocampus is shrunken in people with Alzheimer's and is vulnerable to damage during the early stages of the disease.

"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. And unfortunately, we know there are currently no FDA-approved medications that can stop that progression," first author Rebecca Erwin Wells said in a release. "We also know that as people age, there's a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer's disease."

The stress-busting benefits of meditation have been shown over and over again, with recent studies showing it not only helps practicers feel calmer but it also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, The Huffington Post reported. Another recent study at the University of Oregon found that meditation has a protective effect on the brain, increasing protective tissues and signaling.

While researchers say further research is needed to evaluate larger numbers of people and measure other cognitive changes, the results do suggest mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) may help protect areas of the brain affected by dementia.

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