Dementia and Mindfulness Meditation

Preventing Dementia – The Mindfulness Connection

Other forms of dementia exist besides Alzheimer’s disease, but this form is the most common.  It is also a disorder that strikes fear in most individuals entering middle-age. The National Institute on Aging reports that one in seven adults over the age of 70 in the U.S. has been diagnosed with dementia (1). Since there is no cure, preventing dementia is a public health focus. Mindfulness and meditation are effective as prevention tools according to recent Alzheimer’s disease research findings.

Symptoms of Early Dementia – Why Recognition is Important

Forgetfulness is not necessarily a symptom of dementia, but it is usually a feature. Lack of sleep and prolonged stress can also foster forgetfulness.

Can meditation help with the symptoms of dementia?
Can meditation help with the symptoms of dementia?

However, progressive short-term memory loss is the hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. In a person over 40 years old who formerly had a good memory, increasing forgetfulness may be a sign that some type of brain dysfunction is occurring. There are only five medications that are currently approved to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and all must be started at onset of this condition to be effective. The first pharmaceutical was not approved until 1993, and no effective drug treatment exists for any later phase (2).

Mindfulness and Cognition – The Relationship

Research studies have shown strong evidence that mindfulness practices, such as meditation, increase short-term memory and the ability to maintain attention. Indeed, a study that compared findings from a structured exercise program to a meditation program—in terms of the participants’ short-term memory abilities—found that meditation produced better results (3)!

An article in 2015 that reviewed studies focused on effective cognitive enhancers (CEs) included meditation (4). Specifically, it described a link between meditation and the following four cognitive processes: attention, memory, executive functioning, and processing speed. Study findings published in 2017 focused on “grey matter” degeneration; the article’s authors concluded that meditation increases “grey matter” volume and reduces its atrophy (5).

Researchers have also compared various mindfulness practices in terms of results in dementia patients, and—while beneficial overall—found no specific differences in results between the studied practices (6). These practices were as follows:

  • Zen meditation – originated in China (and spread to Japan);
  • Transcendental meditation – originated in India;
  • Vihangam yoga – originated in India;
  • Kirtan Kirya (Sa Ta Na Ma meditation) – originated in India

Difference Between Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) and Alzheimer’s Disease

An abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain—termed Lewy bodies—is found in people with the second-most common form of dementia. In contrast to PET scan images in persons afflicted with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), the scans in Alzheimer’s disease patients typically show plaques composed of beta-amyloid protein. The cognitive feature most associated with LBD is an inability to control expressions of mood—especially anger and sadness. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, there are no pharmaceutical treatments for LBD. However, mindfulness practices can be calming, and reduce feelings of both anger and sadness.

Tau Proteins vs. Beta-Amyloid Proteins – Which are More Important?

Tau deposits in the temporal lobe of the brain were more linked to deficits in memory than beta-amyloid protein deposits, according to an article in Science in 2016. Meanwhile, this article also notes that 30 percent of people without any symptoms of dementia have beta-amyloid plaques—which may mean that tau deposits are the more critical in the development of memory problems. This same article describes the findings of a study that suggests that tau deposits—as viewed by PET scan—are actually more predictive of who will develop Alzheimer’s disease than the beta-amyloid protein deposits in the brain.

References:

  1. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging. (2007). Newsroom – One in seven Americans age 71 and older has some type of dementia, NIH-funded study estimates. Webpage: https://www.nia.nih.gov/newsroom/2007/10/one-seven-americans-age-71-and-older-has-some-type-dementia-nih-funded-study
  2. Alzheimer’s Association. Science and Progress – Major Milestones in Alzheimer’s and Brain Research. Webpage: http://www.alz.org/research/science/major_milestones_in_alzheimers.asp
  3. Zeidan F, Johnson SK, Diamond BJ, et al. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition 19(2): 597-605. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20363650
  4. Sachdeva A, Kumar K, and Anand KS. (2015). Non Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancers – Current Perspectives. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research 9(7):VE01-VE06. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4573018/
  5. Last N, Tufts E, and Auger LE. (2017). The Effects of Meditation on Grey Matter Atrophy and Neurodegeneration: A Systematic Review. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 56(1): 275-286. Webpage: http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad160899
  6. Marciniak R, Sheardova K, Čermáková P, et al. (2014). Effect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 8: 17. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3903052/
  7. Underwood, Emily. (May 11, 2016). Tau protein—not amyloid—may be key driver of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Science Webpage: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/tau-protein-not-amyloid-may-be-key-driver-alzheimer-s-symptoms

 

 

 

 

What is Mindfulness and Why is it Important?

Describing mindfulness conjures images that range from Zen meditation rooms to staring at constellations in the night sky. But, the usual modern workplace—filled with noisy cubicles—invokes the opposite image for most people. While mindfulness can be considered an alert but calm brain that can assess its surroundings and cope with challenges, there is tremendous evidence that the distracted brain is less able comparatively to multi-task successfully. Both mental and physical health depend upon a brain that is able to function well under the normal stressors of daily life.

The Relationship of Mindfulness to Meditation

The most well-recognized form of mindfulness practice is meditation. While a Zen meditation sitting is the most structured, other types—such as Vipassana, Transcendental Meditation (TM) or even focused attention meditation which is what we, at Muse, help to measure—do not require sitting in a specific position. Kundalini is a form that combines breathing routines with meditation, and Hatha yoga sessions often end with a brief period of meditation.  Meanwhile, technological / psychological methods to achieve mindfulness (e.g., Neurofeedback through Muse) bear similarities to meditation and offer similar health benefits, but are not linked to any spiritual origin.

Distracted Brains – The Consequences

No evidence for the negative impact of a lack of mindfulness is as clear as the data on accidents resulting from texting while driving. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 3,477 fatalities due to distracted driving in 2016 (1). Furthermore, between 2014-2016, analyses have shown a 14 percent increase in distracted driving accidents resulting in fatalities (2).

Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation

Technological advances have fostered a dependence on online gaming, social media interactions, and fast response to emails and texts that have created greater distraction in public and private environments. Throughout our society, adults are more likely to engage in multi-tasking and spend less time in practicing mindfulness—which requires a time period of quietude and disengagement from Smartphones, tablets, and the Internet.

Research on Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness

Faculty researchers performing medical studies have published findings of the effects of meditation since the 1970s. Numerous studies have compared brain wave function in research subjects who were meditating with a non-meditating control group, and found marked differences.

Neuron pathways
Mindfulness meditation aids in building of neural pathways in the brain.

Results of a 3-month study published in 2016 showed brain waves corresponding to an anxiety state were lessened in comparison to the control group, and revealed scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness reduce anxiety (3). Findings of another study published in 2017 showed a reduction in PTSD symptoms following four months of TM practice (4). Yet another study in 2017 showed that improved blood pressure readings were observed in hypertensive patients who practiced meditation, and thereby demonstrating a physiological benefit of meditation (5).

Conclusions – The Mind-Body Connection

Depression and anxiety are prevalent, and decades of research have shown the mental health benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Since mental health has been linked to overall health status, practicing mindfulness can aid in maintaining immune function and physical health. Whether choosing to meditate or utilizing a different mindfulness path, taking time on a daily basis to focus on mindfulness is worth it.

What is Muse? 

Muse: the brain sensing headband when accompanied with an app available for both iOS and Android devices is a sensory device that is designed to help with meditation by providing real-time EEG based audio and visual feedback. Learn more at: http://www.choosemuse.com/

 References:

  1. U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Distracted Driving. Webpage: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving
  2. Korosec, Kirsen. (February 15, 2017). 2016 Was the Deadliest Year on American Roads in Nearly a Decade. Fortune Magazine Webpage: http://fortune.com/2017/02/15/traffic-deadliest-year/
  3. Tomljenovic H, et al. (2016). Changes in trait brainwave power and coherence, state and trait anxiety after three-month transcendental meditation (TM) practice. Psychiatr Danub 28(1): 63-72. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26938824
  4. Nidich S. (2017). Transcendental Meditation and Reduced Trauma Symptoms in Female Inmates: A Randomized Controlled Study. The Permanente Journal 21: 16-008. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5363900/
  5. Park SH, and Han KS. (April 6, 2017). Blood Pressure Response to Meditation and Yoga: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Altern Complement Med [Epub Ahead of Print] Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28384004

 

 

Can Mindfulness Meditation Prevent Heart Disease?

The link between arterial plaques and heart attacks in middle-age is widely recognized. Yet, another common heart disorder affects people across the age spectrum. Irregular heart rhythm (termed arrhythmia) heightens the risk for both stroke and cardiac arrest. The most prevalent arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (AFib). This affects from 2.7 – 6.1 million people in the U.S. (1).  Mindfulness and meditation have been shown in studies conducted over 30 years to reduce episodes of AFib and other arrhythmias.

Arrhythmia Risk Factors and Mindfulness

High blood pressure and diabetes are both risk factors for the development of an arrhythmia, whether evidenced as a suddenly slow heart beat or the rapid one of AFib. The implantation of a permanent pacemaker is usually recommended by cardiologists once arrhythmia has been diagnosed, along with daily heart medications.

However, mindfulness and meditation have been used to prevent the onset of arrhythmia in high-risk adults. A research article in 2015 in PLoS One revealed that a 12-week mindfulness training program slowed heart rate in research subjects with heart disease as compared to a matched control group (2). Meanwhile, a similar study showed improved blood pressure in hypertensive subjects with heart disease (3).

 Diabetes, Insulin Resistance, and Meditation

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder affecting around 1.25 people in the U.S., according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) (4). Meanwhile, 40 percent of all adults in the U.S. develop Type 2 diabetes over the course of a lifetime (5), and 86 million people in the U.S. have prediabetes (6). Over time, a prediabetic condition (as determined by high glucose and A1C lab values) will evolve into Type 2 diabetes.

Insulin resistance occurs when enzymes normally produced in the pancreas are either nonexistent or unable to process sugar (termed glucose) in the bloodstream for transfer to muscle and tissue cells. Instead, the glucose remains in the bloodstream, and causing symptoms plus a wide variety of health problems. Atherosclerosis and other heart disorders are typical in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics who have lived with their diabetes for many years—even when treated with insulin or oral medications. Reduced insulin resistance following a meditation practice of a set duration was found by researchers in a study undertaken in diabetic patients suffering from heart disease (7).

Psychological Stress as a Cause of Heart Disease

Findings of an analysis of 23 clinical trials were published in The Oschner Journal, which revealed a benefit from meditation in reducing heart attack risk (8). Specifically, the cortisol levels were lower in patients who engaged in a mindfulness routine (e.g., daily meditation). Meanwhile, medical research has shown that psychological stress increases cortisol levels in the blood. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing cortisol, which is a necessary human hormone. However, the release of too much cortisol into the bloodstream—as occurs during periods of stress—can eventually damage the arteries and heart. People experiencing emotional stress are at far higher risk for the development of both cardiovascular disease and arrhythmia. Therefore, the answer is yes, taking time for a mindfulness practice can be beneficial to maintaining long-term heart health.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control. Atrial Fibrillation. Webpage: https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/docs/fs_atrial_fibrillation.pdf
  2. Younge JO, et al. (2015). Web-Based Mindfulness Intervention in Heart Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PloS One 10(12): e0143843. Webpage: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0143843
  3. Parswani MJ, et al. (2013). Mindfulness-based stress reduction program in coronary heart disease: A randomized control trial. International Journal of Yoga 6(2): 112-117. Webpage: http://www.ijoy.org.in/article.asp?issn=0973-6131;year=2013;volume=6;issue=2;spage=111;epage=117;aulast=Parswani
  4. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Type 1 Diabetes Facts. Webpage: http://www.jdrf.org/about/fact-sheets/type-1-diabetes-facts/
  5. Whiteman, Honor. (August 13, 2014). 40% of American adults will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Medical News Today Webpage: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/280943.php
  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). GAME PLAN for Preventing Type 2 Diabetes – Facts and Statistics. Webpage: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/ndep/health-care-professionals/game-plan/facts-statistics/Pages/index.aspx
  7. Koike MK. (2014). Meditation can produce beneficial effects to prevent cardiovascular disease. Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation 18(3). Webpage: https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/hmbci.2014.18.issue-3/hmbci-2013-0056/hmbci-2013-0056.xml
  8. Ray IB, et al. (2014). Meditation and Coronary Heart Disease: A Review of the Current Clinical Evidence. The Ochsner Journal 14(4):696-703. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4295748/

Calling a timeout through meditation:  Taking Control of Your Life Through Mindfulness

When life starts moving too fast it is hard to call a timeout.  There is no substitute player waiting to replace you in the game.  It’s just you out there.  And you are either going to get the job done or you’re not.  This realization is why we can get overwhelmed so quickly.  We are so busy, so stretched that just one more setback, one more hurdle to leap can send you spinning out of control.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  It is possible to slow the pace down and to carve out some time for yourself to be alone, with your thoughts.  To just be.

Calling a timeout through meditation.
Calling a timeout through meditation.

A Need to Eliminate Anxiety and Stress

Stress kills, according to Mayo Clinic.  It makes your blood pressure skyrocket and your metabolism go off the rails.  So, we need to eliminate stress.  Sounds easy enough.  But what about the anxiety?  That seems to be the real problem.  Sure, diet and exercise will reduce the negative physical impact of chronic stress but will they treat your mind?  Your soul?

That is where the concept of living in the moment comes in.  Mindfulness.  In popular media it seems to be everywhere right now. It’s like a magical potion to cure what ails you.  Of course, when you ask how mindfulness is attained you are met with blank stares and a lot of throat clearing.  Usually someone mentions something about meditation and the conversation shifts to hot yoga or a PBS special on the law of attraction.

Reaching for Mindfulness Through Meditation

The best way to practice mindfulness is through a sustained meditation practice. This study says if you establish a regular meditation practice, you stand a good chance of effectively managing your anxiety and eliminating chronic stress.  Practitioners of meditation have known this for hundreds of years but it is good that Western medicine has embraced this trend.

But isn’t establishing a meditation practice difficult?  Especially if you’re already suffering from anxiety, making everyday activities stressful out and tiring?  At this point we are just looking for a break, not another thing to learn and master; worrying if we are doing it right.  We want fifteen minutes to sit quietly, clear our minds, and put our thoughts in the moment.  That’s it.  Just a timeout.  Like hitting the reset button to give us a chance to muster our courage and face the rest of the day.

Meditation is a Timeout from Life

Guess what?  That break.  That pause button you just hit.  That’s meditation. You don’t take a break to meditate, you take a break by meditating.  It really is that easy.  And if you do it every day, you have a real shot at turning the tables on your anxiety and your worrisome thoughts. Don’t worry about achieving mindfulness without a wandering mind.

Mindfulness
Mindfulness

It’s nearly impossible not that black and white. You don’t have to live entirely in the moment to experience mindfulness.  You just have to know when you are not being mindful.  The benefits come when you start recognizing if you are dwelling on the past, worried about the future, and forgetting to enjoy the present.  That’s it.

So, the next time you start feeling overwhelmed, the next time you can’t remember when you last had a moment entirely to yourself, call a timeout and meditate.  And then the next day, do it again.  Pretty soon it will become habit.  And then you will be on the road to recovery.

Meditation Can Put You to Sleep, Finally

Meditation Can Put You to Sleep, Finally

Not sleeping is rough. Not sleeping well for days on end is even worse. Your mind is foggy, and something simple like walking down a hall feels like wading through quicksand. Some coffee, a sugary donut, and you perk back up again just in time for work. But by the afternoon your lack of rest is making its presence known. Headaches, uncontrollable yawning. You are lucky to make it to the end of the day. Then, that night, your head hits the pillow hard, but your eyes spring open.

Insomnia back again?

Your mind races, replaying the events of the day. You do everything but sleep. And the cycle begins again. If this is you, you have a problem. It might be time to try meditation.

Meditation as a Cure for Insomnia

Sure, there are other cures like prescription drugs that put you out for the night and often part of the next day as well. Then there are natural remedies that may help calm you, but the results are inconsistent. What you need is long-term reliable help with no negative side effects. Something that not only helps you sleep but improves your mental state, overall performance and your general health. What you might need is meditation. Specifically, a focussed attention and mindfulness meditation program.

Establishing Mindfulness to Quiet the Mind

The goal of mindfulness is the acceptance of negative physical and mental states. Once you attach limited importance to these distractions, you are left only with the reality of the present. It is a simple concept but can be challenging to accomplish. But what does this have to do with sleep? Well, if you think about what causes insomnia it all starts to make sense.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress is a leading cause of insomnia. It is hard to sleep when your mind is preoccupied, worried about family, finances, health or whatever is circulating endlessly through your mind. The same organization lists increased anxiety as a result of lack of sleep, making the problem continue to grow worse with each passing sleepless night. This is why meditation helps, especially focused attention meditation. This type of meditation where one focuses purely on the breath or other bodily sensation helps keep distractions at bay. This can then break what seems like a never ending cycle of restlessness.

Focussed Meditation is Proven to Reduce Stress and More

Recently a group of researchers took a look at the correlation between mindfulness meditation and improved mental and physical health. In this study published in the American Journal of Medicine, the findings confirm a reduction in anxiety, depression, and pain among people who meditate. Furthermore, another study additionally showed meditation’s positive impact in terms of mitigating the effects of insomnia.

Unfocused or Focused Meditation?

Traditional meditation demands the mind be completely cleared of all thoughts. This is hard to do. Focussed meditation calls for an object to be the center of your focus, driving all other thoughts away. This method is easier to learn for beginners, and practice more regularly. Additionally, there are popular tools like Muse that can help make the practice more enjoyable and can provide valuable insights into progress over time. Muse works analyzing the patterns in your brain during meditation and in real-time changing the sounds you hear to help guide you to a stronger focus.

Sleep better. Meditate.
Sleep better. Meditate.

It can teach you block out distractions and focus on the present. The health benefits of meditation go well beyond sleep. People who meditate enjoy lower blood pressure, better metabolism, perform better at work as well as many other benefits. Most importantly however, for our topic, they are sleeping better.