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Meditation and Cognitive Ageing: the Role of Mindfulness Meditation in Building Cognitive Reserve

Malinowski, P and Shalamanova, L (2017) Meditation and Cognitive Ageing: the Role of Mindfulness Meditation in Building Cognitive Reserve. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 1 (2). pp. 96-106. ISSN 2509-3290

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Abstract

Mindfulness-related meditation practices engage various cognitive skills including the ability to focus and sustain attention, which in itself requires several interacting attentional subfunctions. There is increasing behavioural and neuroscientific evidence that mindfulness meditation improves these functions and associated neural processes. More so than other cognitive training programmes, the effects of meditation appear to generalise to other cognitive tasks, thus demonstrating far transfer effects. As these attentional functions have been linked to age-related cognitive decline, there is growing interest in the question whether meditation can slowdown or even prevent such decline. The cognitive reserve hypothesis builds on evidence that various lifestyle factors can lead to better cognitive performance in older age than would be predicted by the existing degree of brain pathology. We argue that mindfulness meditation, as a combination of brain network and brain state training, may increase cognitive reserve capacity and may mitigate age-related declines in cognitive functions. We consider available direct and indirect evidence from the perspective of cognitive reserve theory. The limited available evidence suggests that MM may enhance cognitive reserve capacity directly through the repeated activation of attentional functions and of the multiple demand system and indirectly through the improvement of physiological mechanisms associated with stress and immune function. The article concludes with outlining research strategies for addressing underlying empirical questions in more substantial ways.

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