Mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults: study

July 24, 2012

For older adults, loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems — such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's — and death. Attempts to diminish loneliness with social networking programs like creating community centers to encourage new relationships have not been effective.

However, a new study led by Carnegie Mellon University's J. David Creswell offers the first evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces in older adults. Published in "Brain, Behavior & Immunity," the researchers also found that mindfulness meditation — a 2,500-year-old practice dating back to Buddha that focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the present moment — lowered inflammation levels, which is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases. These findings provide valuable insights into how mindfulness meditation training can be used as a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the risk of disease in older adults.

"We always tell people to quit smoking for health reasons, but rarely do we think about loneliness in the same way," said Creswell, assistant professor of psychology within CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "We know that loneliness is a major risk factor for and mortality in older adults. This research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults."

The video will load shortly.
For older adults, loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems -- such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's -- and death. Initial attempts to diminish loneliness with social networking programs like creating community centers to encourage new relationships have not been effective. However, a new study led by Carnegie Mellon University's J. David Creswell offers the first evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults. Published in Brain, Behavior & Immunity, the researchers also found that mindfulness meditation reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression and lowered inflammation levels; inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases. These findings provide valuable insights into how mindfulness meditation training can be used as a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the risk of disease in older adults. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

For the study, the research team recruited 40 healthy adults aged 55-85 who indicated an interest in learning mindfulness meditation techniques. Each person was assessed at the beginning and end of the study using an established loneliness scale. Blood samples also were collected.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or no treatment. The MBSR program consisted of weekly two-hour meetings in which participants learned body awareness techniques — noticing sensations and working on breathing — and worked their way toward understanding how to mindfully attend to their emotions and daily life practices. They also were asked to practice mindfulness meditation exercises for 30 minutes each day at home and attended a daylong retreat.

The researchers found that eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased the participants' loneliness. Using the blood samples collected, they found that the older adult sample had elevated pro-inflammatory gene expression in their immune cells at the beginning of the study, and that the training reduced this pro-inflammatory gene expression, as well as a measure of C-Reactive Protein (CRP). These findings suggest that mindfulness may reduce older adults' inflammatory disease risk.

"Reductions in the expression of inflammation-related genes were particularly significant because inflammation contributes to a wide variety of the health threats including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases," said study collaborator Steven Cole, professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine.

While the health effects of the observed gene expression changes were not directly measured in the study, Cole noted that "these results provide some of the first indications that immune cell profiles can be modulated by a psychological intervention."

Creswell added that while this research suggests a promising new approach for treating loneliness and inflammatory disease risk in , more work needs to be done. "If you're interested in using , find an instructor in your city," he said. "It's important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym."

Explore further: Breast cancer survivors benefit from practicing Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction

Related Stories

Breast cancer survivors benefit from practicing Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction

December 29, 2011
Women recently diagnosed with breast cancer have higher survival rates than those diagnosed in previous decades, according to the American Cancer Society. However, survivors continue to face health challenges after their ...

Don't worry, be happy -- understanding mindfulness meditation

October 31, 2011
In times of stress, we're often encouraged to pause for a moment and simply be in the 'now.' This kind of mindfulness, an essential part of Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions, has entered the mainstream as people try to ...

Meditation training may lower respiratory illness burden

July 10, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Training in mindfulness meditation or exercise is linked to a decrease in the severity and duration of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) in adults, according to a study published in the July/August issue ...

Recommended for you

Oxytocin turns up the volume of your social environment

September 20, 2017
Before you shop for the "cuddle" hormone oxytocin to relieve stress and enhance your social life, read this: a new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that sometimes, blocking the action of oxytocin in ...

Researchers develop new tool to assess individual's level of wisdom

September 20, 2017
Researchers at University of San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new tool called the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) to assess an individual's level of wisdom, based upon a conceptualization of wisdom as a trait ...

Alcohol use affects levels of cholesterol regulator through epigenetics

September 20, 2017
In an analysis of the epigenomes of people and mice, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National Institutes of Health report that drinking alcohol may induce changes to a cholesterol-regulating gene.

Self-control may not diminish throughout the day

September 20, 2017
After a long day of work and carefully watching what you eat, you might expect your self-control to slip a little by kicking back and cracking open a bag of potato chips.

One in four girls is depressed at age 14, new study reveals

September 20, 2017
New research shows a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) are depressed at age 14.

Tablets can teach kids to solve physical puzzles

September 20, 2017
Researchers confirm that when 4-6 year old children learn how to solve a puzzle using a touchscreen tablet, they can then apply this learning to the same puzzle in the physical world. This contradicts most previous research ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.