DAVIS, Calif. — Having a muddled mind later in life is a concern for many people, especially if dementia or Alzheimer’s disease runs in the family. Now a new study shows that meditating regularly improves attention span in old age.
According to the most extensive longitudinal study ever to examine a group of meditation practitioners, making meditation a routine can have long-lasting effects. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis measured the benefits of three months of regular meditation training and found benefits still lingering seven years later.
Researchers recruited two groups of 30 participants to take part in a three-month retreat at the Shambhala Mountain meditation center in Colorado. During the retreat, participants meditated daily and practiced common techniques, such as loving-kindness, to improve calmness and compassion levels. After three months of training, they were given follow-up assessments six months, 18 months, and seven years after their regular mediation sessions, though only 40 people remained in the study for the entire duration. The assessments measured cognitive abilities like reaction time and attention span. The final appraisal had individuals estimate how often they meditated as part of their daily lives.
Of the 40 remaining participants, all of them maintained some sort of routine meditation practice. Eighty-five percent of the group indicated they meditated about an hour a day over the seven years.
When it came to the cognitive assessments, the researchers found that older participants especially maintained more of the gains in attention span that they picked up after their training courses. Perhaps more importantly, participants didn’t show typical decline in cognitive functions that come with aging.
“This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person’s life,” says lead author Anthony Zanesco, now with the University of Miami, in a press release.
The full study was published March 18, 2018 in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement.