Only the Lonely

Can regular meditation result in a decrease in loneliness in seniors?

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Loneliness is an unpredictable condition that takes no prisoners. In less serious cases, it can lead to binge eating and quiet nights at home camped in front of a television screen. However, being lonely has also been associated with such extreme risks as cardiovascular disease, depression and even premature death. According to experts, the sorrowful state can cause an increase in activity in inflammation-related genes that can, in turn, trigger a variety of illnesses.

But, in a recent study conducted by UCLA professor Steve Cole, an eight-week prescription for mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation resulted in a decrease in loneliness in seniors.

Subjects of Cole’s study consisted of 40 adults between the ages of 55 and 85, each of whom were assigned to either a meditation group or a control group that did not meditate. Participants of the first group attended regular meetings in which they were taught techniques in mindful awareness and breathing. They also practiced mindfulness meditation for a half-hour each day for eight weeks, and attended one all-day retreat. Participants were evaluated twice on an established, written loneliness scale—at the beginning and end of the study—as well as via blood samples, to measure gene expression and levels of inflammation.

Afterward, participants of the mindfulness meditation group reported feeling less lonely, and their blood levels showed reduced appearance of inflammation-related genes.

Although the study consisted of a small sample, Cole says it is the “first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene-expression…. MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly.”