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Can Meditation Reverse Memory Loss?

Study Shows Improvement on Memory Tests After Practicing Meditation for 8 Weeks
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

meditation_helps_mental_decline_2.jpg

Mar 3, 2010 -- Meditation can increase blood flow in the brain and improve memory, according to researchers who tested a specific kind of meditation and found the improvement after just eight weeks.

The 15 participants, ages 52 to 77, all had memory problems at the start, says Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, one of the researchers and the medical director of the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Ariz.

For eight weeks, the participants engaged in a meditation at home known as Kirtan Kriya, which originated from the Kundalini yoga tradition.

"It only takes 12 minutes [a day,] it's easy to learn, it doesn't cost anything, and it has no side effects," Khalsa tells WebMD. The technique, he says, "reverses memory loss in people with memory problems."

The study findings are published online in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The researchers first gave all 15 participants cognitive tests and took brain images to measure blood flow.

The participants learned the Kirtan Kriya technique. It involves the repetition of four sounds -- SA, TA, NA, MA. While saying the sounds, the person meditating also touches their thumb to their index finger, and middle, fourth, and fifth fingers. They perform it out loud for two minutes, in a whisper for two minutes, in silence for four minutes, a whisper for two more minutes, and out loud for two minutes.

The participants were asked to do the meditation each day for eight weeks and were sent home with a meditation CD.

A comparison group of five people with memory loss got the same imaging tests and were asked to listen to two Mozart violin concertos each day for eight weeks for the same 12 minutes a day.

Improvements in Memory

Participants were asked to keep daily logs and came back after eight weeks for repeat testing and scans.

At the study start, of the 15 in the meditation group, seven had mild age-associated memory impairment, five had mild cognitive impairment, a worse problem, and three had moderate impairment of memory with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. One who had Alzheimer's was not included in the final analysis because of inability to do the meditation at the follow-up.

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.

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