A mindfulness intervention reduces inflammatory biomarkers that are associated with cognitive decline and dementia in older adults, according to the results of a new randomized controlled trial. The research has been published in Translational Psychiatry.
“Mindfulness has been gaining quite a traction in recent years, and it has been shown to improve clinical measures and functional outcomes in various clinical populations, particularly in those with psychiatric conditions,” explained study author Ted Kheng Siang Ng, a PhD graduate from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the National University of Singapore.
“Various scholars have suggested that mindfulness interventions may potentially delay cognitive decline, thus delaying the progression of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia. However, there is currently still largely mixed evidence. Intriguingly, there has been no study which examined the effects of mindfulness intervention on blood and salivary biomarkers in older adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, a condition also known as pre-clinical dementia.”
In the study, 55 older adults diagnosed with MCI were randomly assigned to participate in either a mindful awareness practice program or a health education program for one year. Researchers who were blinded to the treatment allocation assessed the outcomes at baseline, 3-month, and 9-month follow-ups.
In the mindful awareness program, a certified instructor taught the participants several techniques, including mindfulness of the senses practice, mindful breathing, and body scan practice, visual-motor coordination tasks, and mindful stretching. In the health education program, which was used as an active control group, medical professionals taught the participants about several topics, such as hypertension, healthy diet, depression, exercising, coping with grief and stress, connectedness, and dementia.
The researchers found that the mindfulness program was associated with reduced levels of several inflammatory biomarkers compared to the health education program.
“In all, we demonstrated the proof-of-concept of mindful awareness intervention in improving three biomarkers implicated in cognitive decline and dementia, in older adults with MCI,” Ng told PsyPost.
“Specifically, we showed that mindful awareness practice, a structured mindfulness program adapted for older adults, lowered a biomarker of inflammation (C-reactive protein) in older women with MCI and in older adults with the amnestic subtype of MCI. The program also lowered the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6 and IL-1β) in older men. These findings have clinical implications, because inflammation is associated and has even been shown to be casual to brain changes associated with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.
“As detailed in our scientific paper, the mindfulness intervention conducted with participants having MCI was feasible and the participants could practice it without time and space constraints,” Ng said.
“Having said that, a number of caveats ought to be noted, particularly more frequent engagement and reminders to the participants to practice and to keep record of their practices at home. This issue is pertinent to the clinical characteristics of MCI, which are having cognitive issues, one of the prominent issues being forgetfulness.”
“Furthermore, as with other behavioral interventions, blinding, which is the concealment of group assignment of the study participants, was not possible. Hence, we suggest employing sham meditation in future studies, as proposed by other scholars previously,” Ng explained.
In another recent study, which appears in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, the researchers found evidence that practicing mindfulness could improve brain network efficiency and neurocognitive function in older adults with MCI.
“The promise of mindfulness interventions have been demonstrated in a wide range of psychiatric conditions. With this study and another one that we have recently published examining Magnetic Resonance Imaging measures, we provided strong preliminary data on the potential of mindfulness to improve multi-faceted aspects of MCI, encompassing the underlying biology, brain connections, and clinical functioning,” Ng told PsyPost.
“These findings in turn supported the launch of the age-well-everyday (AWE) program, which has been launched in eight senior activity centers throughout Singapore, where this study was conducted. Lastly, we would also like to conduct more mindfulness intervention trials to validate and extend these findings, with the hope to impact clinical practice in the future.”
The study, “Mindfulness improves inflammatory biomarker levels in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial“, was authored by Ted Kheng Siang Ng, Johnson Fam, Lei Feng, Irwin Kee-Mun Cheah, Crystal Tze-Ying Tan, Fadzillah Nur, Sin Tho Wee, Lee Gan Goh, Wei Ling Chow, Roger Chun-Man Ho, Ee Heok Kua, Anis Larbi, and Rathi Mahendran.