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5 Positive Effects of Meditation and Mind-Body Exercises That Improve Cognition Function in Seniors

senior woman talking to trainer on side of pool

The physiological impact of aging can lead to cognitive decline, impairment, dementia, etc., all of which can significantly affect the older adult’s quality of life as well as the lives of those who care for them. Cognitive impairment is irreversible, and there is a lack of high-quality evidence supporting the use of medications to improve cognitive function or delay disease progression. Studies have shown that mental and physical activity, such as mind-body exercises, can decrease the risk of cognitive decline.

Mind-body exercises, including tai chi, yoga, dance, and Pilates, focus on mental concentration, breathing control, and body movement; they have shown documented improvements in a person’s flexibility and mental health. In a recent study, Wu et al. (2019) reported on the findings of their meta-analysis, which included a review of 32 randomized clinical trials with 3,624 participants (age 50-85). They assessed the effect of mind-body exercises on cognitive functions including global cognition, executive functions, language, learning, and memory in aging adults from normal cognition to cognitive impairment.

Clinical practice implications based on the study findings:

  • Clinicians should recommend that patients with mild cognitive impairment choose mind-body exercise as an evidence-based, alternative intervention for preventing cognitive decline or improving cognitive performance.
  • Tai chi and dance may be the most suitable mind-body exercises for promoting cognitive functions.
  • Recommend 60 to 120 minutes per week of mind-body exercise as the optimal exercise intensity for older adults with or without cognitive impairment.

Connection to Hendrich II Fall Risk Model™

Confusion, disorientation, and impulsivity are collectively one of the strongest fall risk factors, and cognitive impairments are one of the leading causes of these symptoms.  Additionally, impaired mobility and gait, as tested by the Rising from a Chair test, also increases a patient’s fall risk. Both risk factors may be minimized by patients engaging in preventative activities like mind-body exercises before their admission to acute care or post-discharge (based upon their provider’s guidance). The risk factors serve as a screen and more detailed assessments are required for diagnosis.

Reference: 

Wu, C., Yi, Q., Zheng, X., Cui, S., Chen, B., Lu, L. and Tang, C., 2019. Effects of Mind‐Body Exercises on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Meta‐Analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc, 67: 749-758. DOI:10.1111/jgs.15714

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