Meditation, a tool for preventing dementia?

Paris, France – A French clinical trial shows that 18-month mindfulness meditation training improves the attentional and socio-emotional capacities of subjects aged 65 and over, compared to those of two control groups (one active, the other passive). [1]

On the other hand, no difference was observed between the three groups regarding the volume of the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, while a non-significant trend was observed regarding the perfusion of these structures. On this last point, the authors hypothesize that this trend could become statistically significant after a longer follow-up and could thus suggest a benefit of meditation on the prevention of dementia. The 4-year follow-up is planned.

Why is this important?

Modifying the impact of psychoaffective factors such as depression, stress or anxiety on the risk of dementia has not been explored in clinical research. However, studies have already described the impact of mindfulness meditation on cognition, attention, executive functions as well as on psychoaffective factors. Work carried out in young subjects has shown that this practice is associated with structural and functional changes in the brain, mainly at the level of the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, which are involved in self-awareness, attentional processing, emotional and empathetic. Since they are particularly sensitive to aging, it was interesting to assess whether it could also promote a change in older subjects and thus improve the prevention of dementia.


The Age-Well randomized study, conducted as part of the European project Medit-Aging, recruited people aged 65 and over in good health, with no known pathology that could interfere with cognitive functions. She randomized them to three groups: learning a meditation intervention (mindfulness and loving and compassionate meditation), learning English (active control), and no intervention (active control). liabilities) for 18 months. They benefited from biological assessments and functional neuroimaging carried out in Caen on inclusion, then at the end of treatment. They were asked to self-assess their cognitive and socio-affective abilities via a questionnaire estimating the regulation of attention, socio-emotional abilities and self-knowledge and allowing the establishment of an overall composite score characterizing them. This protocol follows a pilot study where researchers from Caen had studied the brains of 6 people practicing meditation at a “high dose” (Read ‘High dose’ meditation protects the brain from aging).

Principle results

A total of 136 subjects were recruited and included in this analysis (mean age 69.4 years, 60.6% female), with no major demographic or clinical differences between the groups.

At 18 months, no differences in the measurement of the volumes of the anterior cingulate cortex or the insula were observed between the group of subjects who practiced meditation and those in each of the other two arms of the study. Differences were measured regarding the rate of perfusion of these brain areas in favor of meditation, but they were statistically borderline significant (0.02 [IC -0,01 à 0,05]) and (0.02 [IC -0,01 à 0,05] respectively, P =0.06 and P =0.09).

The overall composite score as well as its two attentional and socio-emotional subscores were significantly higher in the meditation group than in the active control group (0.52 [IC 0,19-0,85]0.38 [IC 0,10-0,67] and 0.31 [IC 0,06-0,57]p significant).

“The fact that no anatomical differences were observed between these two groups may indicate that, while meditation may alter the volume of younger, more plastic brains, 18 months of meditation training is not sufficient to alter the effects of aging, analyzed the researcher Gael Chetelat (Inserm director) in a press release. Moreover, if the volume measurement results are strictly negative, those of the perfusion show a tendency in favor of meditation that it could be interesting to explore over a longer intervention time and/or with a sample of larger population,” she added.

This article originally appeared on, member of the Medscape network. Completed by Stephanie Lavaud.

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Meditation, a tool for preventing dementia?

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