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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Can Meditation Reverse Memory Loss?

Study Shows Improvement on Memory Tests After Practicing Meditation for 8 Weeks
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Improvements in Memory continued...

Of the five in the music group, two had mild cognitive impairment and three had age-associated memory impairment.

Among the findings:

  • Cerebral blood flow was increased in the meditating group in the frontal lobe and parietal lobes, both areas involved in retrieving memories.
  • Cerebral blood flow increases occurred in different areas of the brain in the music group, but not significantly.
  • The meditation group improved performance on a test that measures cognition by asking people to name as many animals as they can in one minute.
  • The meditation group also improved on three other tests that gauge general memory, attention, and cognition.
  • The music group didn't have significant improvement in cognition.

Based on the results, Khalsa hopes the practice may help keep some people's mild memory problems from progressing to more severe problems, but acknowledges that once memory becomes too impaired, meditation may not be possible for the person to do.

Why does it seem to help?  ''I use the analogy of going to the gym and lifting weights for eight weeks," Khalsa says. "You're definitely stronger. I think we see this in the brain. It's like training the brain. You are somehow improving the chemical milieu of the brain. Blood flow improves the anatomy of the brain and it functions better," he says.

A Memory Expert's View

A memory expert, Gary W. Small, MD, director of the Memory & Aging Research Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, had some caveats about the study.

''It's a small study," he tells WebMD. And it needs replication, as do all medical studies.

Even so, Small says, the results are plausible. "Meditation might help them focus more," he says of those with memory problems. ''And a big reason people don't remember things is that they are not paying attention."

Relaxation may play a role, too, he says, as some studies show stress can lead to brain atrophy, he says.

The speed of the effect of the meditation is not surprising to Small. In researching his last book,  iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind,  which examines the effect of technology on the brain, Small found that exposing older people to technology by having them search the Internet an hour a day changed their brain activity in one week. He found an increase in frontal lobe activity, in areas that control short-term memory and decision making, he tells WebMD.

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