Adults with mild cognitive impairment can learn to meditate – and build cognitive reserve while doing so – according to a small pilot study.

Cognitive reserve comes from lifelong learning and experience. It’s known to help fortify the brain and lead to better cognitive outcomes, even in cases of dementia. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that addresses chronic stress, which can negatively impact areas of the brain associated with increased risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. 

Rebecca Erwin Wells, a neurologist at Wake Forest University, and colleagues recently aimed to discover whether meditation could help slow cognitive decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment by lowering stress. 

The first order of business was to determine whether study participants were capable of learning the practice. And it turned out that they were, Wells said.

“While the concept of mindfulness meditation is simple, the practice itself requires complex cognitive processes, discipline and commitment,” she explained. “This study suggests that [mild cognitive impairment] is not prohibitive of what is required to learn this new skill.”

Over an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress-reduction, participants improved in measures of cognition and well-being, Wells reported. They also showed gains in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and learning, as well as other areas of the brain associated with cognitive decline. 

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.