Can mindfulness-based interventions influence cognitive functioning in older adults? A review and considerations for future research

Aging Ment Health. 2017 Nov;21(11):1113-1120. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2016.1247423. Epub 2016 Nov 9.


Objectives: An increased need exists to examine factors that protect against age-related cognitive decline. There is preliminary evidence that meditation can improve cognitive function. However, most studies are cross-sectional and examine a wide variety of meditation techniques. This review focuses on the standard eight-week mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

Method: We searched the PsychINFO, CINAHL, Web of Science, COCHRANE, and PubMed databases to identify original studies investigating the effects of MBI on cognition in older adults.

Results: Six reports were included in the review of which three were randomized controlled trials. Studies reported preliminary positive effects on memory, executive function and processing speed. However, most reports had a high risk of bias and sample sizes were small. The only study with low risk of bias, large sample size and active control group reported no significant findings.

Conclusion: We conclude that eight-week MBI for older adults are feasible, but results on cognitive improvement are inconclusive due a limited number of studies, small sample sizes, and a high risk of bias. Rather than a narrow focus on cognitive training per se, future research may productively shift to investigate MBI as a tool to alleviate suffering in older adults, and to prevent cognitive problems in later life already in younger target populations.

Keywords: MBCT; MBSR; Mindfulness; cognition.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Aging / physiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Mindfulness / methods*