Ancient Technique Shown to Alter Brains of People with MCI

Caregiver, patient expert
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_In an example of ancient meeting modern, researchers at UCLA and their colleagues tested whether or not yoga and meditation could alter the brains of some people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to help them think more clearly. MCI is often a very early stage of Alzheimer's disease. Their answer was yes. _

A technique using a yoga pose while mediating was shown by modern methods to be as effective as memory enhancement training (MET). The results of the practices were scientifically proven by using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The UCLA researchers recruited a group of 29 middle-aged and older adults who were shown to have MCI. The progress of these study participants was tracked with brain scans.

They were divided into two groups, one using MET and one using the practices of Kundalini yoga and Kirtan Kriya meditation, which together include the yoga asana (pose) of sitting in a firm but relaxed position while using controlled breathing and prescribed movement and sounds for meditation.

Both the MET and the yoga/meditation groups practiced their program for 20 minutes daily at home over 12 weeks. They then had their brain scans repeated.

By the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers reported similar improvements among participants, in both groups, in verbal memory skills which we use for remembering names and lists of words.

However, the researchers noted that “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.”

These researchers have not yet determined how long these improvements could last. But MET has been shown to last up to ten years. Meanwhile, since it takes time to form new habits, a three month study is encouraging, as it shows that if participants improve enough to feel good about their progress, many of them may continue with their new, healthy habits.

The fact that these practices help the brain as well as the body seems to be a prescription for aging well. With millions of boomers at the age of possible Alzheimer’s onset, we need to use every weapon at our disposal.

Yoga and meditation are unlikely to have any negative side effects but, as with all exercise, you should check with your doctor about your plans.

For more detailed instructions on Kirtan Kriya, you can see more at Spiritual Fitness and Alzheimer’s: Yoga and Meditation Part 1 and Spiritual Fitness and Alzheimer’s: Yoga and Meditation Part 2.

For more suggested yoga poses for seniors try the website of Andrew Weil, MD. He recommends the tree pose and the boat pose for seniors.

Another related practice, tai chi, has also been studied and shown to be helpful for the aging population.

See More Helpful Articles

Yoga and Meditation for Alzheimer’s - abstract from NIH

Spiritual Fitness and Alzheimer’s: Yoga and Meditation Part 1

Spiritual Fitness and Alzheimer’s: Yoga and Meditation Part 2

Tai Chi Reduces Falls and Improves Brain Function


Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter@mindingourelder_ and on Facebook Minding Our Elders_.