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Mindfulness & Meditation for a Healthy Brain

Taking steps to promote brain-healthy activities supports a healthy mind and can help improve memory care for adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia

Did you know that it is fairly common for stress to impair memory? Chances are you have experienced this kind of forgetfulness at some point in your life, whether as a student facing test anxiety and that “mind blank” feeling or in a social setting forgetting the name of a friend while making an introduction. Stressful events can cause a variety of changes in our brains and our bodies, causing long-term damage if left untreated.

Recognizing and managing stress in a positive, healthy was can help reduce the negative long-term effects, such as memory loss. Some research even suggests that certain stress-management techniques can prevent or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive memory illnesses. It is equally important for adults with dementia to manage stressors in an accessible way. Mindfulness meditation can serve as a great option for adults wanting to keep their calm, maintain a healthy brain, or manage symptoms of dementia.

Stress & Your Brain

When you are stressed, your brain becomes preoccupied with the stress-inducing stimuli and other thoughts cannot come through. This is what happens when people say they have a “brain freeze” or “stage fright” during a presentation. Other kinds of memory impairment caused by stress come from our “fight or flight” response, a biological response that causes an adrenalin release to our bloodstreams.

In a practical sense, this adrenalin rush can help us escape from danger, respond quickly in a crisis situation, and take other measures to protect ourselves from perceived danger or stress. Our focus shifts into protective mode and our memories are impaired. Sometimes people will say they “blacked out” during a performance or traumatic event – in reality, they were just not forming memories and there is a gap in events. [Source]

When our bodies are constantly feeling stress, it may become harder and harder to create memories. If you have ever had a long week at work, you may have woken in a panic wondering if you completed a certain task, Upon returning to work, you’ll see you did complete it but just didn’t remember. Stress makes it difficult for our brains to send and store messages, which results in memory impairment. If stress goes untreated, it can lead to damaging long-term effects.

The Long-Term Effects of Stress

Our bodies and our brains both react to stress and are impacted by it differently. Because stress is a chemical reaction, the negative effects of chronic stress are considerable. If left unmanaged, stress can cause cognitive decline, memory loss, anxiety, depression, and unconscious compulsive actions. Continued stress makes it harder for the brain to produce new healthy cells. Without new cells, the old cells deteriorate and may cause dementia and other forms of memory loss. [Source]

For older adults concerned with maintaining a healthy brain as they age, reducing stress is essential. Learning to recognize when stress occurs and what is causing the stress is the first step to managing the symptoms. Practicing mindfulness meditation may be a good solution for combating stress in everyday life.

For family caregivers with loved ones who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, consider introducing mindfulness medication into their memory care plan. If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, medication may help slow down the progression of memory loss, especially when practiced in conjunction with a healthy diet, active lifestyle, and advice from a medical professional. If they are in the middle or late stages of dementia, breathing and other calming techniques may help manage the frustration, anger, and anxiety that often come with late-stage dementia.

Practicing Mindfulness Meditation

In a study published in 2013 by Neuroscience Letters, researchers found that as little as 15 minutes of daily meditation could significantly slow the progression of dementia [Source] Researchers had adults ages 55 to 90 who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment practice mindfulness meditation every day for 8 weeks. At the study, MRIs showed improved connectivity in the default mode network (translation: the part of your brain that never shuts down activity), and slowed shrinkage of the hippocampus, the main part of the brain responsible for memory that usually shrinks with dementia. Participants also showed an overall improvement in cognition and well-being.

What is mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness meditation is essentially moment-to-moment awareness. This typically involves sitting or laying very still and focusing on breathing. From there, you may “check in” with various parts of your body by thinking only of one part at a time, as well as mindful movement exercises. If the idea of sitting still makes you feel even more stressed and anxious, you can try walking meditation or tai chi. Some people find it beneficial to practice bodily awareness through yoga poses and stretching.

How do I get started? There are many books, videos, and guided meditation courses that are available. You can probably access this material through your library or favorite streaming station. Meditation can be done in groups or by yourself. If you are introducing mindfulness to a loved one with dementia, it may be helpful to participate with them. Slowing your breathing, relaxing your body, and clearing your mind can all help reduce the harmful effects of stress.

Are there any memory care benefits? Research suggests that practicing mindfulness meditation, in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle choices, may promote a healthy brain. This means that you may slow the progression of memory impairment or more effectively manage the symptoms of dementia. At the very least, mindfulness meditation can help you from feeling overwhelmed and provide you with the mental strength to complete the tasks ahead.

For more information about memory care services provided by ComfortCare Homes, please call our office at (316) 444-0532.

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