Peaceful Practices For Seniors Can Optimize Cognitive Functioning

The number of apps that can make life more convenient are seemingly endless and there are even apps that can possibly enhance the quality of life for aging adults by prolonging their optimum level of cognitive functioning. Two such apps that can enable a user to access imperative benefits are “ZenFriend” and “7 Minute Chi.”. In this essay, I will summarize two peer reviewed journal articles that address the science behind the neurological benefits that meditation, whether sitting or moving, offers. Then I will explain how a person can access the potential benefits of meditation by using these apps regularly.

Meditation for Increased Cognitive Functioning

Meditation is well known for many benefits such as the reducing stress levels, lowering blood pressure, and increasing a sense of well-being. These benefits impact the brain extensively and on deep levels. Researchers at the University of California, performed a pilot study to compare how a yogic chanting meditation versus relaxing while listening to music, could impact the mental wellness and level of cognition of 39 randomized older adult caregivers. The care givers were each in roles of caring for family members with dementia (Lavretsky, Epel, Siddarth, Nazarian. St. Cyr, Khalsa, Lin, Blackburn, & Irwin, 2012). The researchers approached the study with the understanding that the number of older adult caregivers is going to rise dramatically in the coming years as the older aging population increases. They stated that measures need to be taken to ensure that good mental health and effective cognitive functioning is sustained for aging caregivers in these high stress positions, so that they may effectively support their family members. For the study, the researchers had the subjects do the chanting meditation, Kirtan Kriya, for 12 minutes and on 8 consecutive days. The control group meditated for the same duration and time frame. All subjects journaled their daily practice.

The researchers measured the subjects’ telomere length and the telomerase actions in peripheral blood mononuclear cells before and after the eight days of meditation or relaxation (Lavretsky et al., 2012). Shortened telomeres are biomarkers for high levels of continuous stress, diseases, and lessened cognitive functioning. Comparatively, longer telomeres and higher levels of telomerase are indicative of higher cognitive functioning. Results for the studies indicated that the levels of telomeres went up as did the levels of telomerase for the participants who had meditated. The researchers found that among the caregivers there was a significant increase in cognitive functioning and their common depressive symptoms had lessened (Lavretsky et al., 2012). The study showed that the meditation did in fact have a positive impact on cognitive functioning.

ZenFriend for the Ease of Meditation

The ZenFriend website (2014) tells of ZenFriend of the app for meditation that can be accessed on mobile devices and computers. ZenFriend is easy for people with few technology skills to use and with regular use, seniors may benefit cognitively (ZenFriend, 2014). Although, the app is Buddhist in origin, people from any spiritual or religious background may find it useful. At the basic level the app is free and operates as a timer which enables the user to meditate without the distraction of keeping time. ZenFriend (2014) also offers daily reminders so that the practice of meditation can easily be worked into a daily schedule and not forgotten. The app also features a guided mindfulness meditation for those who feel more comfortable with prompted meditation.  Another unique feature of ZenFriend (2014), is the connection to a global online meditation community of others who are utilizing the app for meditation. The online community can offer social inclusion as well as validation and encouragement for those who are using ZenFriend.  When the issue of social isolation is such a prominent social problem among those who are aging, an online community could encourage use. The ZenFriend (2014) website explains that the app is also useful for building on meditation skills as it offers a range of upgrades that range from $2.99 to $29.99. Because the upgraded ZenFriend apps allow the user to access meditation instruction and many more guided visualizations and meditations to choose from, those who are aging can easily use the app for increasing cognitive functioning (ZenFriend, 2014)

Tai Chi for Increased Cognitive Functioning

Like the seated meditation, studies show that the moving meditation, Tai Chi, can also have potentially positive effects on the cognitive functioning of older adults. Researchers Peter Wayne, Jacqueline Walsh, Ruth Taylor-Piliae, Rebecca Wells, Kathryn Papp, Nancy Donovan, and Gloria Yeh (2014), systematically reviewed and used meta-analysis of 20 different neuropsychological tests on 2,553 subjects who either did or did not practice Tai Chi. The tests were randomized and non-randomized controlled studies, cross-sectional studies, and observational studies that were aimed at measuring cognitive function in older adults with and without cognitive deficiencies. They found that there were marked improvements especially in regards to the subjects’ executive functioning (Wayne et al, 2014). They attributed these positive results to the multiple aspects of Tai Chi. They explained that Tai Chi requires methodical and rhythmic physical movements that can be aerobic and that require balance, strength, dexterity, and stamina and that can increase essential circulation for increased cognitive functioning. Tai Chi also requires and builds on the ability to master and recall positions that are likely new to the person. Also, the memorization of the movements of Tai Chi requires the use of memory, concentration, and visuospatial processing. The meditative mental focus that occurs when Tai Chi is performed could over time, inhibit the effects of interference and improve the person’s ability and speed of remembering. The researchers state that Tai Chi is a mind-body training that can improve cognitive function by increasing processing ability and speed and the building of more plentiful and developed neuropathways (Wayne et al, 2014).

7 Minute Chi

The 7 Minute Chi website (2015) explains that the 7 Minute Chi app instructs the user through each fluid movement of Tai Chi or Qi Gong, to integrate body and mind. Like the ZenFriend the 7 Minute Chi app is free, is user friendly, can be downloaded on mobile devices and computers, and is available most anyplace and at any time, making improvements in cognitive functioning highly accessible for older adults. The 7 Minute Chi website (2015) supports the science behind the art by telling how moving through each posture in the routine allows the user to experience increased flexibility, better balance, a relaxed state of mind, more regular sleep cycles, and an improved ability to focus. The gracefulness of this peaceful moving meditation app is a holistically healthy exercise.

Conclusion

Scientific research studies that measure levels of cognitive functioning in samplings of older people before and after the practice of seated meditation or moving meditation Tai Chi, demonstrate that both exercises produce positive results for cognitive functioning. The ZenFriend (2014) and 7 Minute Chi (2015) are just two of the many apps that are available that can potentially optimize cognitive functioning for the older aging population. These two apps have excellent features that walk the user through the practice so that they can be used easily on a regular basis. Whether the person is using the apps with the goal of cultivating a state of relaxation, clearing the mind and creating focus, or with the desire to improve cognitive functioning, the apps have the features to support the user in their intent and in their health.

By Crista James

 

References

Lavretsky, H., Epel, E., Siddarth, P., Nazarian, N., Cyr, D.S., Khalsa, D., Lin, J., Blackburn, & .Irwin, M.R., (2012). A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity. International Journal Of Geriatric Psychiatry28(1), 57-65. doi:10.1002/gps.3790

7 Minute Chi. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.7minutechi.com/

Wayne, P. M., Walsh, J. N., Taylor-Piliae, R. E., Wells, R. E., Papp, K. V., Donovan, N. J., & Yeh, G. Y. (2014). Effect of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society62(1), 25-39. doi:10.1111/jgs.12611

ZenFriend – Meditate daily. Change your life. (March 3, 2014). Retrieved from http://zenfriend.com/

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