Brain Gray Matter Changes Associated with Mindfulness Meditation in Older Adults: An Exploratory Pilot Study using Voxel-based Morphometry

Neuro. 2014;1(1):23-26. doi: 10.17140/NOJ-1-106.


Background: Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have previously been associated with structural gray matter changes in normal healthy adults. However, it remains unknown if standardized MBIs can induce similar changes in older adults and those with health complaints as well. The objective of this investigation was to examine the effect of a standardized MBI on the gray matter tissue of older adults with sleep disturbances.

Methods: This exploratory single-group pilot longitudinal study examined local gray matter changes over a six-week MBI period. Participants included six older adult community volunteers (M=66.5 years of age, SD=5.5, range=58-75; 66% female) with sleep disturbances recruited through advertisement in local newspapers/flyers posted at a university medical center and affiliated clinics in Los Angeles, CA. The MBI was delivered as a weekly, two-hour, six-session, group-based course in mindfulness meditation. Gray matter was measured voxel-wise pre- and post-intervention.

Results: A significant gray matter increase was identified within the precuneus, possibly implicating meditation-induced changes of the default mode network. In contrast, observed significant gray matter decreases may have been driven by MBI-related remediation of brain architecture subserving sleep complaints.

Conclusions: Exploratory findings suggest that mindfulness meditation practice is associated with a detectable alteration of cerebral gray matter in older adults.

Keywords: Aging; Brain imaging; Meditation; Mindfulness; Voxel-based morphometry.