Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, along with investigators from the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, and faculty from Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, explored the question of what might counteract cognitive decline in a rapidly aging society, and whether meditation might be able to enhance cognitive function in older adults. (Meditation has already been shown to have positive effects on cognition in younger and middle-aged adults.)

The team reviewed studies investigating the effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline, searching the Web of Science (1900 to present), PsycINFO (1597 to present), MEDLINE (1950 to present), and CABI (1910 to present) to identify original studies investigating the effects of meditation on cognition and cognitive decline in the context of aging.

Twelve studies were included in the review, six of which were randomized controlled trials. Studies involved a wide variety of meditation techniques and reported preliminary positive effects on attention, memory, executive function, processing speed, and general cognition.
However, most of the studies had a high risk of bias and small sample sizes. Reported dropout rates were low and compliance rates were high.

The researchers conclude that meditation interventions for older adults are feasible, and preliminary evidence suggests that meditation can offset age-related cognitive decline. But more well-designed studies with larger numbers are needed.

Citation:  Gard T1, Hölzel BK, Lazar SW. The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences  2014 Jan;1307:89-103. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12348.