Meditation and music listening programs have shown promise in improving measures of cognitive and memory in adults with subjective cognitive decline, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Listening to music or taking part in meditation could improve memory and cognitive function among people with SCD.

Emerging evidence indicates that subjective cognitive decline (SCD) could represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, or unhealthy brain aging. Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million people in the United States.

Dr. Kim Innes, associate professor of epidemiology at West Virginia University in Morgantown, and colleagues aimed to assess the effects of two mind-body practices – Kirtan Kriya meditation and music listening – on cognitive outcomes in people with SCD.

Kirtan Kriya is a form of yoga meditation that combines focused breathing practices, singing or chanting, finger movements, and visualization. Practitioners of yoga claim that this type of meditation stimulates all of a person’s senses and the associated brain areas.

Practicing 12 minutes of Kirtan Kriya is reported to help a person to think more clearly, improve memory retrieval, improve sleep quality, reduce stress, improve both short- and long-term psychological health, and sharpen attention, concentration, and focus.

Music listening programs have been suggested to provide behavioral and emotional benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease and have shown positive outcomes even in the late stages of the disease.

The areas of the brain that store musical memories are thought to remain relatively undamaged by Alzheimer’s disease. People associated music with significant events or a wide range of emotions, which may evoke a response long after memory declines.

Music listening therapy may relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and lessen agitation in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, music could boost mood, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and help coordinate motor movements.

Previous research by the West Virginia team suggested that both interventions of Kirtan Kriya and music listening improved stress, sleep, mood, well-being, and quality of life. These improvements were especially significant in the meditation group, and they were sustained or enhanced a further 3 months after the interventions were complete.

In this new randomized controlled trial, Innes and team assigned 60 adults with SCD to either Kirtan Kriya meditation or music listening programs.

The participants were asked to practice their activity for 12 minutes per day for 3 months and the following 3 months if they so wished. Measures of cognitive function and memory were taken at the start of the study, and at 3 months and 6 months.

Study results demonstrated significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in both the meditation and music groups.

The areas of cognitive functioning that benefited were those that would potentially be affected in the preclinical and early stages of dementia, such as attention, executive function, processing speed, and memory function.

As with the team’s previous study, memory and cognitive gains were maintained or increased at 3 months post-intervention. The study authors write:

Findings of this preliminary randomized controlled trial suggest practice of meditation or music listening can significantly enhance both subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in adults with SCD, and may offer promise for improving outcomes in this population.”

The study findings indicate that Kirtan Kriya meditation and music listening programs could be useful interventions for improving mood, sleep, and quality of life in adults with SCD, as well as providing help with memory and cognitive performance.

Learn why bilingual seniors have brains that are more efficient and more able to resist decline.