Mindfulness-based stress reduction for older adults: effects on executive function, frontal alpha asymmetry and immune function

Neuropsychobiology. 2013;68(1):34-43. doi: 10.1159/000350949. Epub 2013 Jun 15.


Background/aims: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has enhanced cognition, positive emotion, and immunity in younger and middle-aged samples; its benefits are less well known for older persons. Here we report on a randomized controlled trial of MBSR for older adults and its effects on executive function, left frontal asymmetry of the EEG alpha band, and antibody response.

Methods: Older adults (n = 201) were randomized to MBSR or waiting list control. The outcome measures were: the Trail Making Test part B/A (Trails B/A) ratio, a measure of executive function; changes in left frontal alpha asymmetry, an indicator of positive emotions or approach motivation; depression, mindfulness, and perceived stress scores, and the immunoglobulin G response to a protein antigen, a measure of adaptive immunity.

Results: MBSR participants had a lower Trails B/A ratio immediately after intervention (p < 0.05); reduced shift to rightward frontal alpha activation after intervention (p = 0.03); higher baseline antibody levels after intervention (p < 0.01), but lower antibody responses 24 weeks after antigen challenge (p < 0.04), and improved mindfulness after intervention (p = 0.023) and at 21 weeks of follow-up (p = 0.006).

Conclusions: MBSR produced small but significant changes in executive function, mindfulness, and sustained left frontal alpha asymmetry. The antibody findings at follow-up were unexpected. Further study of the effects of MBSR on immune function should assess changes in antibody responses in comparison to T-cell-mediated effector functions, which decline as a function of age.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Aged
  • Aging / immunology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Hemocyanins / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness*
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*


  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Hemocyanins
  • keyhole-limpet hemocyanin