(Philadelphia, PA) - Researchers at the University
of Pennsylvania School of Medicine are examining the effectiveness
of meditation on early cognitive impairment. Once this new study
is completed, the results could help answer lingering questions
over whether or not stress-reducing techniques and mind exercises
can lessen or even prevent cognitive decline. This is the first
study at Penn’s new “Center for Spirituality and the
Mind,” which evolved from work initiated in Penn’s Department
of Radiology, to embrace and encourage researchers from the fields
of medicine, pastoral care, religious studies, social work, nursing,
and bioethics to expand our knowledge of how spirituality may affect
the human brain.
“We’ll be looking at patients with mild cognitive impairment
or symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease,” explains
Andrew Newberg, MD, Associate Professor of Radiology,
Psychiatry, and Religious Studies, who also directs the Center’s
investigations and is Principal Investigator of this pilot study.
“We’ll combine their meditation with brain imaging over
a period of time to see if meditation improves cognitive function
and is associated with actual change in the brain’s activity
levels. Specifically, we’ll be looking for decreased activity
in specific areas of the brain.”
The dementia process causes a decreased function of neurons in
the brain and can result in problems with memory, visual-spatial
tasks, and handling emotional issues. As it worsens in a patient,
it can also eventually lead to the need for round-the-clock care.
In this study, investigators want to look at the early symptoms
of dementia. Study participants will learn a particular kind of
meditation, called Kirtan Kriya, identified as one of the most fundamental
types of meditation practice. It’s a repeated chanting of
sounds and finger movements designed to help the mind focus and
become sharper. Study participants will perform this meditation
program every day for eight weeks to see if this relaxation technique
can change the brain’s response to different tasks.
“This is a form of exercise for the brain which enables the
brain to strengthen itself and battle the unknown processes working
to weaken it. We want to keep the mind sharp and work that muscle,”
Newberg adds. “We might see improvements in baseline activity
levels in the brain and these patients might be able to activate
their brain in a more robust way in particular. So if this kind
of meditation is successful in helping patients with neurological
problems, it could then someday become a low-cost additional treatment
to current therapy.”
Newberg will use SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography)
imaging to capture the baseline image of the brain as well as the
brain’s activity during meditation. Images will be taken at
the beginning of the study and then after the eight-week program.
This study, which is now enrolling patients, is funded by a research
grant from the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
ARPF President, Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, is known for his expertise
in the area of meditation and brain function.
PENN Medicine is a $2.9 billion enterprise
dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical
research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists
of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in
1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of
Pennsylvania Health System.
Penn's School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt
of NIH research funds; and ranked #3 in the nation in U.S.News &
World Report's most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical
schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the
School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education
and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and
leaders of academic medicine.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three
hospitals, all of which have received numerous national patient-care
honors [Hospital of theUniversity of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania
Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical
Center]; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network;
two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.