Mindfulness in the Setting of Neurologic Issues
You may have heard of the term “mindfulness” before, but have you ever thought about how it applies to you? As much as regular exercise is important for your body, practicing mindfulness is good for your brain health!
According to Meriam-Webster, mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and breathing exercises are all tools to help you focus your awareness to be present in any given moment.
While neurological diagnoses differ, there are common features among the different disorders, such as impaired attention, impaired memory, impaired executive functioning, and exaggerated changes in mood. For people with these issues, physical symptoms are managed through medication, but emotional problems are often left unchecked.
Significant scientific research has been done on the benefits of mindfulness for the brain. Studies in neuroimaging have investigated certain changes to structures in the brain as a result of meditation. In fact, the more mindfulness is practiced, the more the brain’s synapses strengthen, leading to improved brain health and quality of life.
Neurologist and Movement Disorder Specialist Dr. Deborah Boland of Be Mobile Neurology believes that integrating mindfulness techniques into her patients’ health care plans can be incredibly beneficial to their overall health. Dr. Boland says that there are a variety of simple ways to be mindful every day, such as focusing on the sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel of the activities in your daily routine. The important factor for any of these activities is that the patient is paying attention to every part of the experience without judgement.
There also are more formal mindfulness therapies available for patients. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a modified form of cognitive therapy, using techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises to teach people to connect with their thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week evidence-based program that provides mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and other issues.
In fact, anxiety and depression are among the most prevalent non-motor symptoms for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). A 2017 systematic review took a closer look at MBSR’s role in improving these outcomes for PD patients, reporting positive effects. Other small trials (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26101690, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27144052) have shown a decrease in anxiety and depression for people with PD immediately after intervention. Also, an MRI study showed that mindfulness in PD leads to structural brain changes.
Similar findings came from a 2018 study, which investigated the relationship between mindfulness, meditation, cognition, and stress in people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers reported that mindfulness interventions, including MBSR, resulted in less cognitive decline and less perceived stress for participants. The study also showed increases in brain activity, including functional connectivity, percent volume brain change, and cerebral blood flow in areas of the cortex.
Research also has considered the impact of mindfulness on headaches. A 2015 study determined that MBSR is an effective non-pharmacological intervention for pain reduction and the development of coping strategies for patients with chronic headaches. This outcome is supported by earlier research that compared MBCT to medication with promising results.
It’s clear that science supports the correlation between mindfulness and better health. Being mindful reduces stress, improves mood and general well-being, improves cognition, sharpens focus, and improves brain function.
By being more mindful as a daily practice, you can help relax and refocus your brain and body. If you have a neurological disorder or would like more information on how to optimize your brain health, please call Be Mobile Neurology at (813) 981-4403 or visit us online.