Prolonged stress is a risk factor for dementia. “But everyone has stress!” you say. And yes, you are right. Everyone has stressful periods. However, some people cope better with stress than others.
It’s this ability to cope that lowers risk for dementia. While different coping tools work for different people, meditation has been linked with stress reduction.
So how does meditation work in the brain?
Meditation can be simply defined as a period of deliberate reflection with attention to the present time, place, and experience. Meditation improves both attention span and emotional regulation, or your ability to manage ongoing emotions. Researchers have uncovered changes in brain activity and brain structure during meditation, specifically a form of meditation called mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation focuses on the experiences of the present moment. This type of meditation encourages removing any feelings of judgment you have towards feelings or thoughts you experience while meditating.
Researchers have studied the brain activity of people while meditating and found brain activity clustering in 3 areas. The prefrontal cortex, entorhinal cortex and caudate regions of the brain each showed increased activity. These regions of the brain control self-awareness, stream of consciousness and attention span.
Science still has a lot of work to do to fully understand how meditation changes the brain. We do know that there is very little risk to trying meditation. It’s associated with a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure, two factors also influencing cognitive health. Not sure where to get started? You can download an audiobook, podcast or free meditation app for your phone or tablet. Many community centers also offer free or low cost meditation groups.