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Middle age and senior people taking yoga class

Yoga, Brain Games, or Support Groups? Study Assesses Interventions for People With Mild Cognitive Impairment

By | May 22nd, 2019

Can yoga and brain games slow down or improve quality of life in people with mild memory and cognitive issues?

A new study sponsored by Mayo Clinic tested five different behavioral interventions on people with mild cognitive impairment to see which, if any, could delay or prevent dementia, or otherwise impact people’s overall quality of life.

The trial compared the core elements of Mayo Clinic’s HABIT (Healthy Action to Benefit Independence and Thinking) program, designed for patients with mild cognitive impairment and their carers:

  • Memory support: Teaches compensation skills like writing things down and maintaining a calendar
  • Yoga: Chair-based physical activity and relaxation skills
  • Support groups: Therapist-led emotional support, with separate groups for patients and for carers
  • Cognitive exercise: Computerized cognitive training (i.e. brain games)
  • Wellness education: Group classes that present scientific evidence around nutrition, sleep and emotional health

One year after their training, patients showed no significant difference between groups on overall quality of life, meaning they all had equal impact. However, wellness education was found to boost mood, while yoga improved memory-related daily activities.

Computerized cognitive training showed the least impact, reported the researchers in JAMA Network Open.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?

Fifteen to 20 percent of people over the age of 65 have what’s known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Mild cognitive impairment falls between normal cognitive decline from aging and a more serious decline from dementia. With MCI, you know your memory or mental function has slipped, but it’s not enough to affect your daily life. Thirty-two percent of these people go on to develop Alzheimer’s dementia within 5 years.

Learn More: What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment? A Guide to Symptoms and Diagnosis

How Do You Treat MCI?

With no FDA-approved therapies for MCI, people with early stages of memory loss receive numerous recommendations to help combat memory loss, such as writing down notes, exercising, playing computer memory games or eating a certain diet. “They want to do things to help their situation, but are unsure what they should and should not invest their time doing,” Melanie Chandler, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida told Medpage Today.

According to the study’s authors, there is promising evidence that such lifestyle interventions may be beneficial in treating MCI. Past research points out that these types of therapy have small but significant effects on people with memory, attention, and processing speed issues, such as boosting patients’ confidence, mood, and ability to perform daily activities.

Learn More: Doctors Say Exercise Is the Best Medicine for Cognitive Impairment

Best Behavioral Interventions for MCI, According to the Trial

This trial sought to gather the input of patients and family members, to give them an active part in their treatment. The study found that patients were most concerned with their quality of life, mood and ability to perform memory-related daily activities.

The study involved 272 patients from academic medical outpatient centers who met the National Institute on Aging-Alzheimer’s Association criteria for mild cognitive impairment. Participants were randomly put in one of five groups. In each group, one of the interventions was withheld, so that each group engaged in four interventions, which patients received for 40 hours over the course of two weeks. They also received one-day booster sessions six months and 12 months after the two-week program.

Between the five groups, there was no significant difference among the interventions, meaning each group reported equal benefits. The greatest quality of life difference among therapies was between the group without computerized cognitive training and the group without wellness education. Wellness education had a greater effect on mood than computer learning games. Yoga showed a greater impact than support groups on memory-related daily activities.

Previous HABIT participants rated yoga and wellness programs to be the least important components of the program, suggesting that patients may not recognize “the potential value of these interventions,” wrote Kelsey Laird, PhD, and Helen Lavretsky, MD, MS, both of the University of California, Los Angeles, in an accompanying editorial.

The study confirms past research that wellness education offers significant mood benefits, while exercise improves memory-related activities.

Read Next: You Think It Might Be Dementia. Here’s What to Do Next

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