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To reduce pre-Alzheimer’s cognitive impairment, get to the yoga mat

UCLA study finds yoga, meditation more effective than memory-boosting exercises

Meg Sullivan | 

F Twit L E P
Seniors yoga

A three-month course of yoga and meditation was found to be even more effective than memory enhancement exercises for managing mild cognitive impairment.

Inner peace and a flexible body may not be the most valuable benefits that yoga and meditation have to offer, suggests new research by a UCLA-led team of neuroscientists.

The team found that a three-month course of yoga and meditation practice helped minimize the cognitive and emotional problems that often precede Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia — and that it was even more effective than the memory enhancement exercises that have been considered the gold standard for managing mild cognitive impairment.

“Memory training was comparable to yoga with meditation in terms of improving memory, but yoga provided a broader benefit than memory training because it also helped with mood, anxiety and coping skills,” said Helen Lavretsky, the study’s senior author and a professor in residence in UCLA’s department of psychiatry.

People with mild cognitive impairment are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Helen Lavretsky

The study, which appears May 10 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, is the first to compare outcomes from yoga and meditation with those from memory training, which incorporates activities ranging from crossword puzzles to commercially available computer programs. The study of 25 participants, all over the age of 55, measured changes not just in behavior but also in brain activity.

“Historically and anecdotally, yoga has been thought to be beneficial in aging well, but this is the scientific demonstration of that benefit,” said Harris Eyre, the study’s lead author, a doctoral candidate at Australia’s University of Adelaide and a former Fulbright scholar at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “We’re converting historical wisdom into the high level of evidence required for doctors to recommend therapy to their patients.”

Lavretsky and Eyre studied participants who had reported issues with their memory, such as tendencies to forget names, faces or appointments or to misplace things. Subjects underwent memory tests and brain scans at the beginning and end of the study.

Eleven participants received one hour a week of memory enhancement training and spent 20 minutes a day performing memory exercises — verbal and visual association and other practical strategies for improving memory, based on research-backed techniques.

The other 14 participants took a one-hour class once a week in Kundalini yoga and practiced Kirtan Kriya meditation at home for 20 minutes each day. Kirtan Kriya, which involves chanting, hand movements and visualization of light, has been practiced for hundreds of years in India as a way to prevent cognitive decline in older adults, Lavretsky said.

After 12 weeks, the researchers saw similar improvements among participants in both groups in verbal memory skills — which come into play for remembering names and lists of words. But those who had practiced yoga and meditation had better improvements than the other subjects in visual–spatial memory skills, which come into play for recalling locations and navigating while walking or driving.

The yoga–meditation group also had better results in terms of reducing depression and anxiety and improving coping skills and resilience to stress. That’s important because coming to terms with cognitive impairment can be emotionally difficult.

“When you have memory loss, you can get quite anxious about that and it can lead to depression,” said Lavretsky, who is also a researcher at the Semel Institute.

The researchers report that the participants’ outward improvements in memory corresponded with perceptible changes in their brain activity. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, they showed that subjects in both groups had changes in their brain connectivity, but the changes among the yoga group were statistically significant, whereas the changes in the memory group were not.

The researchers attribute the positive “brain fitness” effects of mindful exercise to several factors, including its abilities to reduce stress and inflammation, improve mood and resilience, and enhance production of brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor, a protein the stimulates connections between neurons and kick-start telomerase activity, a process that replaces lost or damaged genetic material.

“If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness,” Lavretsky said.

The study was funded by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.

Senior Care Helper is another source of information that has provided these links for your convenience:

Moving for Seniors and People with Disabilities
Renters’ Rights for Mobility and Disability
Low Vision Internet Gateway
Managing Sensory Issues At Home
Cleaner Indoor Air & Chemical Sensitivities
Safety for Seniors Around Construction Sites
Limited Mobility Home Modification Checklists and Funding
Moving To Assisted Living
Guide to Finding Credible Medical Information

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Alzheimer's Association

he Alzheimer's Association website is the best source for accurate, up-to-date information about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.  If you or a loved one is experiencing troubling symptoms, visit a doctor to learn the reason.  Call the Alzheimer's Association at 800-272-3900 if you need help finding a qualified physician in your area.

Call the Alzheimer's Association

Call the 24/7 Helpline, 800-272-3900, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to speak to a dementia care professional. Whether you need immediate assistance or help planning for the future, the Alzheimer's Association can help. Caring and knowledgeable staff can answer questions, offer advice, connect you to services in your area and, in some cases, help you plan and manage the care of a loved one.  This service is offered free of charge and is available nationwide.  . 

If You Have a Diagnosis

If you or a loved one recently has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia, you are probably wondering what to do next. Although there is yet no cure for Alzheimer's disease, there are steps you can take to make the journey easier for you and your loved ones. The Alzheimer's Association is here to help you every step of the way.

Be Informed

The Alzheimer's Association offers a range of education programs to help people better understand the disease, maintain their health and be more effective caregivers. Take a look at the education calendar to find out about what programs are being offered. Almost all education programs are offered free of charge to caregivers.

The Abilene Regional Office is giving away copies of The 36-Hour-Day

Join a Support Group

The support and friendship of people who are facing a similar situation can be both comforting and empowering. The Alzheimer's Association - North Central Texas Chapter offers many different support groups throughout its forty-county area. Call 800-272-3900 or visit the list of support groups to find a meeting that is right for you. There are also the Early Stage Support Group for people with early stage dementia and their caregivers and an Early Stage Social Engagement Program that meets weekly to give those with early stage dementia an opportunity to meet and socialize.

Family Care Services

The North Central Texas Chapter has united Case Management and REACH II programs to become Family Care Services. A team of case managers and dementia care specialists work together to provide what families may need to help them on their journey.

Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health (REACH II) is a six-month program offered at no charge to caregivers who are taking care of someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia for at least eight hours per week.  A Dementia care specialist meets one-on-one with the caregiver in the home, the Alzheimer Association office, or in a different venue convenient to both.   REACH is designed to educate and support caregivers and focuses specifically on helping with issues around depression, burden, self-care/health, social support, safety, and problem behaviors.

Case Management works to provide resources for the care recipient:  working closely with caregivers,  case managers reach out to families to help assess care recipient needs, explain and help coordinate services.

MedicAlert®+Safe Return®

MedicAlert®+Alzheimer's Association Safe Return® is a nationwide identification, support and enrollment program that provides assistance when someone with Alzheimer's or a related dementia wanders and becomes lost. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If an enrollee is missing, one phone call immediately activates a community support network to help reunite the lost person with his or her caregiver. Enroll in MedicAlert®+Alzheimer's Association Safe Return® long before someone gets lost.

Help the Research Effort

Clinical trials are research studies employing people as subjects, conducted in order to determine how safe and effective potential treatments are. Right now, more than 100 studies pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are underway and recruiting volunteers. Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch is a free, confidential, interactive tool that matches people to appropriate clinical trials in their area.

Walk to End Alzheimer's

The Alzheimer's Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Held annually in the fall, this inspiring event unites the entire community--family, friends, co-workers, social and religious groups and more--in a display of combined strength and dedication in the fight against this devastating disease. Find out how you and your and your friends and family can participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer's.