Mindfulness Seems to Slow Cognitive Decline of Alzheimer’s

From Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center…

Stress reduction through meditation may aid in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease

BIDMC pilot study shows promise for age-related cognitive diseases

BOSTON – It’s well known that the brains of meditators change, but it’s not entirely clear what those changes mean or how the changes might benefit the meditator. A new pilot study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests that the brain changes associated with meditation and stress reduction may play an important role in slowing the progression of age-related cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

“We know that approximately 50 percent of people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment – the intermediate stage between the expected declines of normal aging and the more serious cognitive deterioration associated with dementia – may develop dementia within five years. And unfortunately, we know there are currently no FDA approved medications that can stop that progression,” says first author Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, who conducted her research as a fellow in Integrative Medicine at BIDMC and Harvard Medical School. “We also know that as people age, there’s a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer’s disease, so we wanted to know if stress reduction through meditation might improve cognitive reserve.”

The results of the study appeared online October 10 in Neuroscience Letters.

Wells, currently a neurologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. evaluated adults between the ages of 55 and 90 in BIDMC’s Cognitive Neurology Unit. 14 adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment were included in the study.

Participants were randomized two to one either to a group who participated in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) using meditation and yoga, or a control group who received normal care. The study group met for two hours each week for eight weeks. They also participated in a day-long mindfulness retreat, and were encouraged to continue their practice at home for 15 to 30 minutes per day.

All participants underwent a functional MRI (fMRI) at baseline and then again after eight weeks to determine if there were any changes in the structures of the brain or in brain activity. The neuroimaging was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Martinos Center.

“We were particularly interested in looking at the default mode network (DMN) – the brain system that is engaged when people remember past events or envision the future, for example – and the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for emotions, learning and memory – because the hippocampus is known to atrophy as people progress toward mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Wells.

Previous studies have shown that the hippocampus is activated during meditation and that meditators have more hippocampal gray matter concentration. “So the big question is, is it possible for MBSR to help attenuate the decline of individuals already experiencing some memory problems?” asks Wells.

The results of fMRI imaging showed that the group engaged in MBSR had significantly improved functional connectivity in the areas of the default mode network. Additionally, as expected, both groups experienced atrophy of the hippocampus, but those who practiced MBSR experienced less atrophy.

Tests of memory were also done, but the study was not powered to see differences between the two groups, though, Wells and colleagues previously reported that, “most data suggest a trend toward improvement for measures of cognition and well-being.”

“This is a small study and more research is needed to further investigate these results, but we’re very excited about these findings because they suggest that MBSR may reduce hippocampal atrophy and improve functional connectivity in the same areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease. MBSR is a relatively simple intervention, with very little downside that may provide real promise for these individuals who have very few treatment options,” says Wells. She adds that future studies will need to be larger and evaluate cognitive outcomes as well. “If MBSR can help delay the symptoms of cognitive decline even a little bit, it can contribute to improved quality of life for many of these patients.”

 

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In addition to Wells, co-authors include BIDMC investigators Gloria Yeh, MD, Jennifer Wolkin PhD, Roger B. Davis, ScD, Ted Kaptchuk, PhD, Daniel Press, MD, and Russell S. Phillips, MD; Catherine Kerr, PhD from Brown University School of Medicine; Robert B. Wall, NP from the Commonwealth Care Alliance; Jacquelyn Walsh from Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Ying Tan, MD, Rosa Spaeth and Jian Kong, MD from Massachusetts General Hospital.

This study was supported by the Harvard Medical School Osher Research Center, the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at BIDMC and NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) K24 AT004095. In addition, this work was conducted with support from Harvard Catalyst | The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center (National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health Award 8UL1TR000170-05 and financial contributions from Harvard University and its affiliated academic health care centers).

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and currently ranks third in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide.

BIDMC has a network of community partners that includes Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, Anna Jaques Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Lawrence General Hospital, Signature Health Care, Commonwealth Hematology-Oncology, Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare, Community Care Alliance, and Atrius Health. BIDMC is also clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and Hebrew Senior Life and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit http://www.bidmc.org.

 

To life, love and laughter,

Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com 
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Twitter: @johnschin

 

Mindfulness Boosts Attention in Children, New Study

Mindfulness Increases Attention Skills in Children

October 13, 2013

A brief mindfulness training program improves children’s ability to tune out distractions and focus better.

 

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Mindfulness Boosts Attentional Skills in Children Aged 10-11

The study was performed by University of Cambridge researchers, Dominic Crehan and Dr. Michelle Ellefson. Results were reported in September of 2013 at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference at the University of Reading.

Dominic stated, “Mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. It has been shown to reduce levels of stress and depression, and to improve feelings of well-being, but to date researchers have not established a link between mindfulness and attention skills in children.”

 

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Mindfulness Linked to Better Attention and Focus in Children

Thirty children (girls and boys aged 10 – 11 years old) participated in mindfulness training during the school day. There were 2 groups trained at separate times to allow the researchers to compare the groups and measure the effects of the training.

Participants’ levels of mindfulness  and attentional skills were measured before immediately following training and three months after the training. This way  changes in attention skills were tracked over time.

The results showed that an improvement in the children’s ability to focus and deal with distractions was associated with the training in mindfulness.

Dominic stated, “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed! Through their training, the children actually learn to watch their minds working and learn to control their attention. These findings could be particularly important for helping children with attention difficulties such as ADHD. Further research on the effects of mindfulness on children’s attention is very much needed.”

Leading you down the path to happiness,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Expert Consultant to Pixar Inside Out (due out June 2015)
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com 
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Happiness blog:
http://HowICanBeHappy.com
Twitter: @johnschin

 

 

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by British Psychological Society (BPS), via AlphaGalileo.

British Psychological Society (BPS) (2013, September 5). Mindfulness training improves attention in children.

How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Positive Spiral

This breaking bit of positive psychology news just in from Ken Pope…

*Psychological Science* has scheduled an article for publication in a future issue of the journal: How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone.

Learn positive psychology with John Schinnerer PhD

The authors are Bethany E. Kok, Kimberly A. Coffey, Michael A. Cohn, Lahnna I. Catalino, Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk, Sara B. Algoe, Mary Brantley, and Barbara L. Fredrickson.

Here’s how the article begins:

[begin excerpt]

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions live longer and healthier lives. Indeed, prospective evidence connecting positive emotions to physical health and longevity has steadily grown for a decade (for a meta-analysis linking positive emotions to objective health outcomes, see Howell, Kern, & Lyubomirsky, 2007; for a meta-analysis linking positive emotions to mortality, see Chida & Steptoe, 2008).

 

Experiencing positive emotions more frequently, for instance, forecasts having fewer colds (Cohen, Alper, Doyle, Treanor, & Turner, 2006), reduced inflammation (Steptoe, O’Donnell, Badrick, Kumari, & Marmot, 2007), and lower likelihood of cardiovascular disease (Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012).

 

Complementing this prospective correlational evidence, a recent longitudinal field experiment designed to test Fredrickson’s (1998, in press) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions found that individuals randomly assigned to self-generate positive emotions reported experiencing fewer headaches and less chest pain, congestion, and weakness compared with a control group (Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008).

 

These first causal data lend support to the conclusion suggested by prospective correlations: Positive emotions build physical health. Stronger evidence still would be to find that an experimental manipulation of positive emotions influenced an objective marker of physical health.

Providing such evidence was one aim of the work reported here.

Cardiac vagal tone provided our objective proxy for physical health. Indexed at rest as variability in heart rate associated with respiratory patterns, vagal tone reflects the functioning of the vagus nerve, which is the 10th cranial nerve and a core component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates heart rate in response to signals of safety and interest (Porges, 2007).

 

Low vagal tone has been linked to high inflammation (Thayer & Sternberg, 2006), and lower vagal tone forecasts greater risk for myocardial infarction and lower odds of survival after heart failure (Bibevski & Dunlap, 2011).

 

Intriguingly, recent prospective evidence suggests that the causal link between positive emotions and physical health may run in the opposite direction as well: Physical health appears to promote positive emotions.

 

Building on findings that high vagal tone has been associated with superior abilities to regulate one’s own emotions (Fabes & Eisenberg, 1997; Thayer, Hansen, Saus-Rose, & Johnsen, 2009) and with positive emotionality (Oveis et al., 2009), we found that people with higher vagal tone show greater gains over time in their positive emotions (Kok & Fredrickson, 2010).

 

More strikingly, these same data also revealed that people who show greater gains in positive emotions show greater improvements over time in their vagal tone; in short, positive emotions and vagal tone show the reciprocal influence indicative of an upward-spiral dynamic (Kok & Fredrickson, 2010).

 

This prospective evidence not only challenges the view that vagal tone in adulthood is a largely stable, traitlike attribute (Bornstein & Suess, 2000), but also raises the possibility that changes in habitual emotions drive changes in vagal tone, and thereby constitute one pathway through which emotional health influences physical health.

 

[end excerpt]

Here’s how the Discussion section starts:

 

[begin excerpt]

These findings document not only that positive emotions build physical health, as indexed objectively by cardiac vagal tone, but also how they do so: We found that people’s perceptions of their positive social connections with others accounted for the causal link between positive emotions and improved vagal tone.

 

Supporting the conceptual model depicted in Figure 1, the data suggest that positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health forge an upward-spiral dynamic.

 

Baseline vagal tone interacted with experimental condition to predict the degree of success people had in self-generating positive emotions.

 

Greater positive emotions in turn prompted individuals to see themselves as more socially connected.

 

Over time, as moments of positive emotions and positive social connections increased and accrued, vagal tone also improved, building a biological resource that has been linked to numerous health benefits.

 

This upward-spiral dynamic has the potential to set individuals on self-sustaining pathways toward growth that can explain the strong empirical associations between positive social and emotional experiences and physical health. Indeed, these findings suggest that habitually experienced positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient for autonomic health.

 

[end excerpt]

 

Here’s how the article concludes:

 

[begin excerpt]

 

Most dispensed advice about how people might improve their physical health calls for increased physical activity, improved nutritional intake, and reductions in tobacco and alcohol use.

 

This good advice can now be expanded to include self-generating positive emotions.

 

Recurrent momentary experiences of positive emotions appear to serve as nutrients for the human body, increasing feelings of social belonging and giving a needed boost to parasympathetic health, which in turn opens people up to more and more rewarding positive emotional and social experiences.

 

Over time, this self-sustaining upward spiral of growth appears to improve physical health.

 

[end excerpt]

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Expert consultant to Pixar

Anger management coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526 San Ramon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area

(925) 575-0258

GuideToSelf.com – Web site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

Reprint request contact info: Barbara L. Fredrickson, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davie Hall CB 3270, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3270 E-mail: <blf@unc.edu> Bethany E. Kok, Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstrasse 1A, 04103 Leipzig, Germany E-mail:

<bethkok@cbs.mpg.de>

How Can I Be Happy? What Science Tells Us About Happiness

The Expert… Richie Davidson: What Science Teaches Us About Well-Being

One of my research heroes is the prolific Richie Davidson. He has an article in today’s Huffington Post… “What Does Science Teach Us About Well-Being?”

Here are a few key excerpts:

As we finalize our preparations to receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a dialogue on Global Health and Well-being, an event co-sponsored by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the Global Health Institute, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is appropriate to reflect on what science is teaching us about well-being.

1. Well-being is a skill.

By conceptualizing well-being as a skill, we appeal to modern insights from neuroscience where the study of neuroplasticity has informed us that the mind and brain are highly changeable and that the brain is constantly being shaped by experience and training.

Positive psychology coaching w john schinnerer phd
Happiness & well-being are skills that can be learned

Viewed from this perspective, well-being is the product of skills that can be enhanced through training and is also subject to environmental influences that impact our brain, especially over the course of development.

2. Well-being is associated with specific patterns of brain activity that influence and are influenced by the body.

Recent findings establish that specific patterns of brain activity involving the prefrontal cortex and limbic (below the cortex) regions are associated with reports of well-being.

Brain patterns associated w happiness
Positive psychology can lead you to a happier brain and mind.

Through this bidirectional communication between the brain and body, pathways have been identified that provide the beginnings of an understanding of why our emotional and physical health are intimately intertwined.

3. Equanimity and generosity both contribute to well-being and are associated with distinct patterns of brain and bodily activity.

The Dalai Lama has frequently urged us to be kind toward others and has suggested that kindness is a direct route to happiness.

Modern research has borne this out and indicates that kindness and compassion toward others is associated with peripheral biological (i.e., biology below the neck) changes that are salubrious.

Equanimity can be cultivated through simple contemplative practices and is associated with being attentive to the present moment and not getting lost in worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.

Modern research indicates that the average adult American spends nearly 50% of his waking life mind wandering–not paying attention to what he is actually doing.

average adult spends 50% of time with mind wandering
The average U.S. adult spends 50% of time with mind wandering

By learning to remain aware of the present moment, we can free ourselves from being slaves to the past and future.

Experiments have been conducted in which participants are randomly assigned to one of two groups–in the first group, they are provided with money and told to go out and spend the money on themselves and to purchase things for themselves only; in the second group, they are provided the same amount of money as the first group but they are told to spend the money only on others.

Since I’m writing about this, I’m sure you can guess which group showed much greater increases in happiness over the course of the day–of course, it was the group instructed to spend the money only on others.

Another amazing thing about generosity and kindness is that a growing body of evidence suggests that such behavior is good for our biology.

It helps to reduce inflammation and the molecules responsible for increasing inflammation.

4. There is an innate disposition toward well-being and prosocial behavior.

Organisms orient toward stimuli and situations that promote well-being.

how can i be happy? learn positive psychology with john schinnerer phd

Moreover, recent research indicates that human infants in the first six months of life show a preference for prosocial and cooperative situations compared with aggressive and antagonistic ones.

If this indeed continues to be replicated across a wide range of cultures, it would invite the view that we come into the world with an innate preference for good and we obscure that innate propensity over the course of development as we become socialized within our modern culture.

When we engage in practices to nurture compassion, we are not really learning a new skill so much as unlearning the noise which is interfering with our ability to connect with a fundamental innate core of goodness.

As these ideas become more widely known and appreciated, it is my fervent aspiration that our culture will pay more attention to well-being, will include strategies to promote well-being with our educational curricula and within the healthcare arena, and will include well-being within our definitions of health.

To life, love and laughter,

 

 

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

(925) 575-0258

Get a free copy of John’s award-winning self help book at GuideToSelf.com

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

Positive Psychology Expert Interview from Askimo – John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Here is an interview on positive psychology and positive emotions I recently did for Askimo, an expert site based out of Tel Aviv. Note there is a lag time between questions and responses due to the international video call.

I’ve been studying the question, “How Can I Be Happy?” for over 20 years. I love having some ways to answer this question now.

Feel free to leave your comments below. Let me know your thoughts!

To life, love and laughter,

John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Expert Consultant to Pixar
Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought
Guide To Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
GuideToSelf.com – Web site
WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course
DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com – Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer
@johnschin – Twitter