by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Researchers attending the Alzheimer's Association International Conference have said meditation and education may be able to prevent or reduce the degenerative brain disease.
Researchers from the University of Tasmania said at the conference which concluded on Thursday that there are currently 245,000 Australians living with Alzheimer's disease and it's the country's leading cause of disability in adults over 65.
With the aging of the baby-boomer generation, 1.13 million Australians are forecast to have the disease by 2050, placing a huge strain on the country's healthcare system.
For the past 18 months, Mathew Summers and his University of Tasmania School of Psychology colleagues have been working on "The Tasmania Health Brain Study: Does late-life education prevent age-related decline and dementia?"
The Australian academics said their research suggests that older adults and seniors need to do things that are mentally stimulating in order to prevent or delay Alzheimer's disease. The researchers' answer is classes for adults that are designed to boost cognitive reserves and protect against Alzheimer's or delay its onset.
"It's less about learning, and more about keeping your mind active. The advantage of university or college education in older age is the mental activity. But it's the social activity as well because you have to socially engage with other people to take part in the course," Summers said.
"All that mental activity is exercising the brain in a way that happened when you were working. The biggest risk we have with retirement is disengaging. So this forces a change on two levels; mental activity and increased social activity."
Summers' research is still unproven and requires further study. He told Xinhua that there is no "magic pill" currently available to fight Alzheimer's and the cause of what remains an incurable disease needs to be discovered first.
"So we thought in the interim, until the magic shot or pill is found, we need to do something to prevent or reduce the rates of dementia. This (promotion of late-life education) is something that is non-pharmacological, non-evasive," he said.
Dharma Singh Khalsa of the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Ariz., also promotes education.
He supports a meditation technique called "Kirtan Kriya" that uses singing and touching and takes only 12 minutes a day. The exercise is said to reduce the effects of stress, including cortisol, a metabolite of the primary stress hormone.
"As humans, we have the highest developed hands and vocal apparatus. No other animal touches things, has the ability to pick things up like that, or to communicate. And what we find in brain analysis is the finger tips and vocal apparatus are highly represented in the map of the brain," Khalsa told Xinhua at the conference that ended Thursday.
"The ancient yogis of 500,000 years ago somehow knew this. And what they said was if you touch your fingers and you sing the sounds, you're going to activate all areas of the brain and that's what we're seeing on our scans."
In studies of brain scans of Kirtan Kriya practitioners, Khalsa said, there have been positive results in a reduction of risk factors, including high blood pressure, and depression.
Because some studies indicate that cognitive decline starts 25 to 30 years before a person shows symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, the sooner to start meditation practice is the better, Khalsa said.