Researchers at a US university have been studying the effects of meditation or music on people with early Alzheimer’s disease and found that both can have a beneficial effect on the cognitive function of people who may be showing symptoms. The study was published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The scientists recognised that subjective cognitive decline or SCD is beginning to be recognised as a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s. SCD may include increasing forgetfulness, losing a train of thought, depression or feeling overwhelmed when making decisions or planning. Patients often self-report these symptoms and to some extent they can be part of the ageing process, however they can also be a precursor to more advanced cognitive decline. Scientists are currently in the process of developing ways of measuring SCD so that it will become a useful tool in predicting the disease.
The researchers aimed to examine the effects of two practices that involve using both the mind and the body: listening to music and Kirtan Kriya meditation which is a form of yoga meditation. The practice involves focussed breathing practises, chanting, singing, the use of finger movements and visualisation. This type of yoga is designed to use all the senses which will stimulate the associated parts of the brain. It is credited with improving the ability to think clearly, improve memory and sleep quality, reducing stress, sharpening concentration and focus and improving psychological health for both the short and long-term.
Music offers both emotional and behavioural benefits for people living with Alzheimer’s. Music programs can offer positive outcomes even if the person is in the late stages. Scientists believe that the areas of the brain that store musical memories can remain relatively intact by the disease. Memories or events evoked by music can remain even if the memory has declined. Music therapy has been linked with the relieving of stress, a reduction of anxiety and agitation, a boost in mood and can stimulate positive behaviour.
This study involved 60 adults who had SCD who were asked to practise either music listening programs or Kirtan Kriya yoga meditation. They were to practise their assigned activity for 12 minutes a day for 3 months. They were able to continue their activity for another 3 months if they wanted to. The researchers took a baseline measure of each participant’s cognitive function and memory both at the start of the study, after 3 months and after 6 months.
The researchers found that both groups benefitted from the activities: showing significant improvements in memory and cognitive performance. The improvements had continued to the six month mark. The researchers found that there was no difference because of age or gender. The researchers noted that the participants had improved their cognitive functioning in the areas which could be affected during preclinical and early stages of dementia. This included improvements in attention, subjective memory function and executive function. The groups also improved their sleep patterns, their levels of stress, their mood and their quality of life. The gains were particularly marked in the meditation group.
This small study group was a pilot study, so further research is needed. The researchers suggest that both music listening therapy and practice of meditation have the potential to significantly improve objective cognitive performance and subjective memory function for adults with SCD. They hope to see further studies which will aim to improve outcomes for adults who are diagnosed with preclinical Alzheimer’s.
Innes, K.E., et al., Meditation and music Improve memory and cognitive function in adults with subjective cognitive decline pilot randomised controlled trial, February 2017, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 56, vol. no.3, pp 899-916