Rushika Prakash, director of Ohio State’s clinical neuroscience laboratory. Credit: Courtesy of Rushika Prakash

A recent Ohio State study examined the effects of mindfulness on attention, mental well-being and inflammation in the elderly, and found mixed results.

Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, director of OSU’s clinical neuroscience laboratory, and Stephanie Fountain-Zaragoza, lead author and graduate student in psychology, reviewed 27 articles about how mindfulness training affects cognitive, emotional and psychological health. Their review of the studies was published in “Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.”

Mindfulness is the awareness of the present moment while specifically highlighting body awareness, emotional awareness and concentrating what one pays attention to. Mindfulness training is defined as paying attention to experiences in the present moment with acceptance, which promotes attentional control and emotion regulation, Prakash said.

Of the 27 studies reviewed, a majority suggest mindfulness training, with the focused attention, leads to improvements in elderly populations. However, some of the studies reviewed show no significant results when compared with groups who did not undergo mindfulness training or groups that waited before starting the mindfulness training.

“Our lab has been one of the first labs to start taking a look at mindfulness as a cognitive rehabilitation tool for older adults,” Prakash said.

Her lab started publishing studies on mindfulness in 2013.

The elderly community is an important population to study in regard to mindfulness, because they often have less social support, limited physical independence and decreased cognitive functioning, according to the OSU study.

Thus far, the studies on the topic have showed results that suggest mindfulness could increase the “attention control” among elderly populations, which is the capacity to choose what they pay attention to or ignore as it relates to their mental well-being.

The studies also examined the effect of mindfulness training on inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury infection where the area will swell. Changes in emotional distress and mental state can affect the level of inflammation in the body, but the relationship between mindfulness and inflammation are also mixed, according to the OSU study.

“Across the three domains there are promising results,” Fountain-Zaragoza said. “There is evidence there are benefits following mindfulness training. However … more work needs to be done.”

The positive effects of mindfulness training could benefit the elderly in their cognitive, mental and physical health, which suggests mindfulness training could be easily employed in multiple contexts, like nursing homes, according to the study.

While there are few studies about mindfulness training, the majority of results shown are positive. Future studies would benefit from rigorous design standards, Prakash said.

“We’re trying to say mindfulness training helps older adults get better on X, Y and Z. In order to establish causality, you have to design very strong randomized control trials,”Prakash said.