How meditation can help reduce loneliness in the elderly and prevent Alzheimer’s disease

  • Mindfulness meditation successfully reduced the feelings of loneliness and also had physical benefits
By Fiona Macrae
PUBLISHED: 16:44 GMT, 15 August 2012 | UPDATED: 22:47 GMT, 15 August 2012

Meditating for just half an hour a day can help the elderly feel less lonely, research suggests.
Learning to focus on the present instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future can stop people from feeling alone and unloved, a study says.
A spokesman for the researchers said the finding may be of particular importance to the elderly.

Feeling lonely has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease
He added: 'Spouses pass and children scatter.

'But being lonely is much more than a silent house and a lack of companionship.
'Over time, loneliness not only takes a toll on the psyche but can have a serious physical impact as well.

'Feeling lonely has been linked to an increased risk of heart  disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and even premature death.

'Developing effective treatments to reduce loneliness in older adults is essential, but previous treatment efforts have had limited success.’

The team of researchers, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), split 40 men and women aged between 55 and 85 into two groups.

One group meditated for half an hour a day, took part in a weekly group class and went on a day-long retreat, while the other group went about their lives as usual.

After two months, the meditating group felt less lonely, while the others felt more isolated  over time, according to the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

Learning to live for the moment also seemed to improve health, with tests showing  that genes linked to potentially damaging inflammation were less active.

Meditating can help the elderly feel less lonely, research suggests

The tests also suggested a drop in C-reactive protein, a compound linked to heart disease. Senior study author Steve Cole said the research showed a link between the psychological intervention and a reduction in genes associated with inflammation.

He added that, if proved by more studies, meditation 'could be a valuable tool to improve  the quality of life for many elderly'. UCLA researcher Michael Irwin said: 'While this was a small sample, the results were very encouraging.

'It adds to a growing body of research that is showing the positive benefits of a variety of meditative techniques, including tai chi and yoga.

'These studies begin to move us beyond simply connecting the mind and genome and identify simple practices that an individual can harness to improve human health.'

Experts warn that being lonely can be as bad for health as smoking or obesity.

Being cut off from others can raise blood pressure, stress and the risk of depression, while weakening the immune system.

They say that feeling alone and unloved can also make it harder to get to sleep and may even hasten the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.