Can Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment Build Cognitive Reserve and Learn Mindfulness Meditation? Qualitative Theme Analyses from a Small Pilot Study

Rebecca Erwin Wells, Catherine Kerr, Michelle L. Dossett, Suzanne C. Danhauer, Stephanie J. Sohl, Bonnie C. Sachs, Jacquelyn Walsh Feeley, Jennifer Wolkin, Robert Wall, Ted Kaptchuk, Daniel Z. Press, Russell S. Phillips, Gloria Y. Yeh, Dharma Singh Khalsa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background/Objective: High levels of chronic stress negatively impact the hippocampus and are associated with increased incidence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease. While mindfulness meditation may mitigate the effects of chronic stress, it is uncertain if adults with MCI have the capacity to learn mindfulness meditation. Methods: 14 adults with MCI were randomized 2:1 to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or a wait-list control group. We conducted qualitative interviews with those who completed MBSR. Transcribed interviews were: a) coded using an emergent themes inductive approach informed by grounded theory; b) rated 0-10, with higher scores reflecting greater perceived benefit from, and understanding of, mindfulness meditation. Ratings were correlated with daily home practice times and baseline level of cognitive function. Results: Seven themes emerged from the interviews: positive perceptions of class; development of mindfulness skills, including meta-cognition; importance of the group experience; enhanced well-being; shift in MCI perspective; decreased stress reactivity and increased relaxation; improvement in interpersonal skills. Ratings of perceived benefit and understanding ranged from 2-10 (mean=7) and of 0-9.5 (mean=6), respectively. Many participants experienced substantial benefit/understanding, some had moderate, and a few had minimal benefit/understanding. Understanding the key concepts of mindfulness was highly positively correlated with ≥20 minutes/day of home practice (r=0.90) but not with baseline cognitive function (r=0.13). Conclusions: Most adults with MCI were able to learn mindfulness meditation and had improved MCI acceptance, self-efficacy, and social engagement. Cognitive reserve may be enhanced through a mindfulness meditation program even in patients with MCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)825-842
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Meditation
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Mindfulness
  • Randomized clinical trial
  • Yoga

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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