Mediation is the practice of quietly focusing thoughts on the present moment or on a simple word or phrase. It is most commonly associated with religious practices, but it is often recommended to improve health and well-being. In fact, the Latin root of the word “To meditate” means “to remedy.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that meditation has been shown to effectively combat insomnia,  reduce high blood pressure, relieve symptoms of  irritable bowel syndrome and shorten the duration of the flu.

Meditation and Alzheimer’s

Several NIH-funded clinical studies also show that regular meditation could promote slow, stall and possibly reverse aging in the brain. And a recent study indicated that meditating at least two hours a week may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Researchers from UCLA and the Australian National University collaborated on a 2014 study which found that people who meditated regularly for years showed significant reduction in the amount of age-related brain atrophy than those who did not meditate.

In 2013, researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School studied people with dementia and found that  those who did yoga and meditation for just two hours a week showed less brain atrophy and stronger cognitive activity than those who did not meditate.

And in at least one study, meditation has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as sleep disturbances, moodiness and chronic stress. Researchers note that these Alzheimer’s-related issues often result in the accelerated progression of the disease. Mediation therapy improved sleep and reduced stress, leading researchers to conclude that it could possibly slow cognitive decline.

Why meditation works

The research on meditation and its effect on brain health showed a reduction in unhealthy proteins and inflammation. Both are known to contribute to heart disease, stroke, and other chronic disease.

How to meditate to prevent dementia

The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation recommends a 12-minute  Kirtan Kriya exercise.   The Kirtan Kriya involves deep concentration while singing and coordinating finger movements.

According to Prevention Magazine, brain-boosting benefits can come from other forms of meditation, too. Activities like walking, yoga and Tai Chi allow the mind to shut out distractions and concentrate on relaxation.

Taking a yoga class or enrolling in a meditation session is another way to learn mindful meditation. The University of Michigan offers a 16-week Mind n’ Motion class for seniors that combines balance exercises with meditation techniques.  

Meditation can help Alzheimer’s caregivers

Caregivers of senior loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia deal with a great amount of stress. Meditation can help them reduce stress, fight depression and maintain good health.

A 2012 study at UCLA  found that the Kirtan Kriya method of mindful meditation significantly reduced the amount of inflammation and increased immune cell production in family caregivers.

For more information about meditation and the brain, visit the AARP Brain Health and Wellness website.