Mindfulness Meditation Linked with Structural Changes in the Older Adult Brain

A new study has found that mindfulness meditation is associated with structural brain changes in older adults. The exploratory longitudinal pilot study, led by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, found changes in gray matter in the precuneus as well as cortical and subcortical regions in the brains of older adults who participated in a mindfulness training program focused on mitigating sleep problems.

The study appeared November 12th, 2014 in Neuro Open Journal and was directed by USC Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine, Dr. David Black.

According to the authors, “Mindfulness-based Interventions (MBIs) have previously been associated with structural brain changes in normal healthy adults. However, it remains unknown if standardized MBIs can impart similar changes in older adults as well”. To address this gap, the researchers sought to examine the effect of a standardized MBI on gray matter volume of older adults.

The pilot study included a subsample of 6 older adult community volunteers from a larger trail that examined the efficacy of a MBI on sleep complaints. Participants received a weekly, 2-hour, group-based mindfulness meditation course for 6 sessions that was facilitated by a certified mindfulness teacher with over 20 years of mindfulness practice. Brain scans were conducted prior to and after the intervention.

Voxel-wise analysis revealed one cluster indicating a significant gray matter increase in the right precuneus and decreases in the left prefrontal cortex, right hippocampus, right thalamus, and right parietal cortex. The authors concluded that the observed increase of gray matter within the precuneus may implicate meditation-induced changes of the default mode network, and that the observed gray matter decreases in cortical and subcortical regions may have been driven by MBI-related remediation of brain architecture subserving sleep complaints.

These findings “highlight the need for future research to investigate neuroplastic changes that are associated with mindfulness meditation in older adults”. According to the authors, research examining the effects of MBIs on brain morphology in this population has broad implications pertaining to understanding training-induced changes in the older adult brain that might have implications for improved mental health in our aging population.

Free access to the full article at: http://openventio.org/ArticleinPress/Brain_Gray_Matter_Changes_Associated_with_Mindfulness_Meditation_in_Older_Adults_An_Exploratory_Pilot_Study_using_Voxel_based_Morphometry_NOJ_1_106.pdf

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