Author Archives: silversantestudy

What is meditation?

By Martine Batchelor

(posted 12th December 2019)

Meditation – along with language-learning and health education – is one of the mental training activities being trialled in the Silver Santé Study to assess its impact on mental health and well-being in the ageing population.

Although meditation – or mindfulness – is now commonly referred to in everyday life, there are many misconceptions about what it is. One, for example, is that meditation is about clearing the mind of all thought. Another is that meditation is a religious practice. While most religions involved some kind of contemplative study, like meditation, the meditation studied in the Silver Santé Study is entirely secular and, while based on Buddhist meditation, it has been adapted especially for potential use for medical purposes.

Rather than clearing the mind of thought, meditation is about cultivating certain qualities that we already have but to a greater degree. One of the bases of meditation is to cultivate focusing, concentration, and anchoring and this means that you are given something to focus on – such as the breath, the body, a sound, or a question. Should your mind wander and start thinking about other things, you simply bring your thoughts back to what you were focusing on and you do this with a positive, friendly attitude. Each time your thoughts wander, you bring them back to what you were focusing on. So both elements are important – the technique, i.e. the focusing, and the attitude with which you do it, i.e. in a friendly way. Once you cultivate the focusing element, it helps you to become calmer.

It’s also important to remember that the aim is not to become the greatest meditator, it’s about helping us become calmer, clearer and more compassionate in daily life.

There are different types of meditation. Mindfulness, for example, is where you focus on something like the breath, the body, a sound, feeling or mental state and then you keep coming back to it in a friendly way. With that technique, it’s about being aware of the change of the breath, the change of sensation, etc. There are other types of meditation too – some focus on a question, while others, like loving kindness meditation, focus on being compassionate to oneself and to others. There are types that are reflective and others that focus on repeating phrases.

Meditation is suitable for most people to some degree.  It’s just like sport – it’s generally good for most people but not suitable for everyone. There are very few negative effects associated with meditation as long as it’s in light conditions. For example, a 7-day silent retreat is not suitable for everyone, but a weekly two-hour mindfulness session every week should be fine for most people.

My advice to anyone wanting to try out meditation would be to find a local course to get some guidance, and then to practice it regularly to see some benefit. Some people find that meditating 10 minutes each day works for them but others meditate for longer – whatever suits you best. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t need to be sitting down to meditate, you can do it walking, standing, sitting or lying down.

Watch Martine explain meditation in our short video:

 

Could brain training keep our cells younger?

By Dr Perla Kaliman

(Posted 27th June 2019)

In an experiment involving identical twins, who would age faster: the twin who is placed in a high-speed rocket and travels near the speed of light or the twin who remains earthbound?

While studying this dilemma known as “the twin paradox,” Albert Einstein guessed that the date of birth is not enough to know the biological age of a person. In 1918, within the framework of his theory of relativity, Einstein showed that when returning from his trip to the stars, the galactic twin would be younger than his sibling born on the same date and with the same DNA. What was unknown 100 years ago is that we don’t need a trip on a space shuttle to modulate our cell ageing. Current research shows that less than 25% of the variations in human longevity can be attributed to our inherited genetic information. It is now clear that the quality of ageing and longevity result from powerful interactions between genes, environment, lifestyle and experiences.

Objectively we can talk about chronological age and biological age. The chronological age is calculated from our date of birth, while the biological age can be measured on our chromosomes. And they do not always match. There are repetitive DNA structures at the end of the chromosomes, called telomeres, whose function is to protect the genetic material. They fulfill a similar task to that of the ends of the shoe laces, that is, to prevent the DNA from fraying and damaging. With age, as part of a natural process, the telomeres get shorter. When the telomeres are already too short to efficiently carry out their protective functions, the cells lose their capacity for division, a phenomenon that increases the risk of most chronic age-related diseases i.e. cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome. Conversely, numerous studies indicate that longer telomeres predict long-term health. It has also been proven that the cells of centenarian people who are in good health have telomere lengths that correspond to younger chronological ages.

Recent research suggests that lifestyle-related factors influence the rate of biological ageing (i.e. nutrition, stress, quality of sleep, physical activity, education, social environment). In the Silver Santé Study, part of our work aims to identify lifestyle factors that may influence the rate of biological ageing. In order to do this, we collected blood samples from all the participants at the beginning of the Age-Well clinical trial and we are now obtaining a second sample from all of them at the end of mental training interventions. Our hypothesis is that brain training activities such as meditation and foreign language-learning may help to slow down the pace of the biological ageing. We very much look forward to learning and sharing the results of our study that may contribute to revealing the molecular mechanisms of long-term brain training on healthy ageing and may help in the design of preventive strategies for age-related chronic diseases.

Learning a second language and its impact on brain health and well-being in seniors

By Caitlin Ware

(posted 1st October 2019)

The adult brain can change and grow as a result of learning[1], even in later life.[2]

It is thought that learning a second language could be a very promising and dynamic way of improving cognitive capacities and maintaining the brain’s functions, as both structural and functional neurological differences have been observed in bilinguals compared to people who only speak one language (monolinguals).

These brain differences may determine how the brain ages and compensates for pathology.[3] What is more, bilingualism and multilingualism have been shown to contribute to a delay in the onset of dementia in seniors.[4]

Although remaining a subject of hot debate[5], research has shown that bilingualism seems to strengthen certain cognitive processes, constituting a ‘bilingual advantage.’ Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals have demonstrated higher scores on cognitive tests, especially those measuring attention and mental control.

Some neuroanatomical and functional changes have been associated with foreign language learning, such as the growth of certain brain regions, and a better connectivity between them. This is promising in the context of ageing, as the brain tends to lose its volume and connectivity with time.[6]

Although research in language learning has focused mainly on children and young adults, a few studies have concentrated on the effects of second language learning in seniors. Not only has it been shown to be feasible and beneficial from a subjective point of view[7], research has shown that it can strengthen cognitive functioning, as well as psychological well-being and quality of life.[8] Moreover, a recent study has evidenced increased connectivity between certain brain regions of Italian older adults learning English after only four months of training.[9] Indeed, learning a foreign language is an intense intellectual activity, which involves memory and attention.

Learning a second language can also engage communication, travel, and involvement in the community, providing seniors with an outlet to improve their overall well-being and sense of confidence. More studies are needed involving larger groups and a longitudinal design and the Silver Santé study is the first to carry out such research. With a language-learning intervention of 18 months, Silver Santé is the longest ever study of its kind and it will be fascinating to see what impact the course has on the mental health and well-being of its participants.

 

Sources: 

[1]Lövdén, M., Wenger, E., Mårtensson, J., Lindenberger, U., Bäckman, L. (2013) Structural brain plasticity in adult learning and development. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Review,37, 2296-310. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.02.014.

[2] Pauwels, L., Chalavi, S., Swinnen, S. (2018) Aging and Brain plasticity. Aging (Albany) 10(8), 1789–1790. doi: 10.18632/aging.101514

[3] Bialystok, E., Abutalebi, J., Bak, T.H., Burke, D.M., Kroll, J.F., (2016) Aging in two languages: Implications for Public Health. Ageing Res Rev, 27, 56–60. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2016.03.003.

[4] Perani, D., Abutalebi, J. (2015) Bilingualism, Dementia, Cognitive and Neural Reserve. Curr Opin Neurol, 28, 618–625. DOI:10.1097/

[5] García-Pentón, L., Fernández García, Y., Costello, B., Andoni Duñabeitia, J., Carreiras, M. (2016) The neuroanatomy of bilingualism: how to turn a hazy view into the full picture. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 31:3, 303-327. DOI: 10.1080/23273798.2015.1068944

[6] Siman-Tov, T., Bosak, N., Sprecher, E., Paz, R., Eran, A., Aharon-Peretz, J., Kahn, I. (2017) Early Age-Related Functional Connectivity Decline in High-Order Cognitive Networks. Front. Aging Neurosci. 8:330, 1-17. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00330

[7] Ware, C., Damnee, S., Djabelkhir, L., Cristancho, V., Wu, Y.-H., Benovici, J., Pino, M., Rigaud, A.-S. (2017) Maintaining Cognitive Functioning in Healthy Seniors with a Technology-Based Foreign Language Program: A Pilot Feasibility Study. Front. Aging Neurosci. 9:42. 1-10. doi: 10.3389/

[8][ Pfenninger, S. E., Polz, S. (2018). Foreign language learning in the third age: A pilot feasibility study on cognitive, socio-affective and linguistic drivers and benefits in relation to previous bilingualism of the learner. Journal of the European Second Language Association, 2(1), 1–13. DOI:http://doi.org/10.22599/jesla.36

[9] Bubbico, G., Chiacchiaretta, P., Parenti, M., di Marco, M., Panara, V., Sepede, G., Ferretti, A., Perrucci, M.G. (2019) Effects of Second Language Learning on the Plastic Aging Brain: Functional Connectivity, Cognitive Decline, and Reorganization. Front. Neurosci. 13:423, 1-13. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00423

The importance of qualitative data in the Silver Santé Study

By Stefano Poletti

(posted 1st March 2019)

Both quantitative and qualitative measures and outcomes are being used to evaluate the impact of the mental training techniques trialled in the Silver Santé Study.

While quantitative (e.g. behavioural, psychological, neurophysiological) research is important and gathers data within a pre-determined framework, it doesn’t always allow us to capture the richness and complexity of a participant’s own experiences of taking part in research of this kind. The addition of qualitative measures provides us with a much deeper understanding of the impact that learning a new language or practicing meditation may have on an individual’s life and can help provide answers as to why that might be the case.

In order to gather this qualitative data, one-to-one interviews are taking place with the volunteers at the end of each wave of the Age Well clinical trial. This qualitative evaluation adds important information about the subjective impact of the relevant intervention on participants. It includes, for example, their experiences of being randomly assigned to one of the intervention groups and provides valuable feedback on their own unique experiences of taking part in the group sessions and of the data collection process. They are also asked about the researchers, the intervention leaders, and the materials provided in the study as well as how they interact with the other volunteers and what they thought of the information shared during the classes.

To avoid any conflicts of interest, I have been recruited as an external researcher to the project to conduct the interviews as impartially as possible. To explore areas of interest, I gather information about the effectiveness and the impact of the Study, starting from a participant’s personal integration of it. These individual interviews enable us to access and document this broad variety of experiences (Clarke and Dawson, 1999: 39) and to enrich our knowledge of the project’s design, including its strengths and weaknesses.

During the first wave of the Study’s Age Well trial, our volunteers were highly engaged with the intervention and the interviews have allowed us to explore what contributed to this high level of interest as well as any lack of enthusiasm that may have existed. The biggest advantage of this qualitative data is the information it provides with regard to the motivation and engagement of participants throughout the project. It also helps us identify any safety and security issues (adverse effects) as well as any changes in outlook associated with their participation (e.g. social identity, belief and value systems.) – all of which are vital to truly understanding the impact of the interventions being studied.

 

Clarke and Dawson, 1999. Evaluation Research: An Introduction to Principles, Methods and Practice. SAGE Publications, Social Science, London

 

Final Age Well trial intervention now complete

The final wave of meditation and language-learning interventions in the Age Well clinical trial has just been completed.

Forty-four healthy older adults, all aged 65+, were randomly assigned to either an 18-month long meditation or foreign language-learning group course or to a control group that did nothing. They will now take part in follow-up tests which are due to finish in February 2020.

Overall, the trial – which took place in Caen, France – has involved 137 participants over three waves of intervention. The results of the trial are expected to be published in 2021.

The Wave 3 foreign-language class participants in their English class.

Silver Santé Study and Lifebrain projects share expertise

Experts from the EU-funded projects Silver Santé Study and Lifebrain held a joint meeting in Berlin to share and discuss their research on brain health.

The meeting, which involved more than 70 experts, saw researchers from both projects present and discuss their work on topics ‘anxiety and depression in ageing and dementia’ and  ‘sleep’. This was followed by a group discussion on ‘the challenges of studying causal effects in brain research with the perspective of translation of results into clinical practice’.

Dr Gaël Chételat, Silver Santé Study Project Coordinator, said: “As Lifebrain is also an H2020-funded study focusing on brain health, it makes sense for us to liaise closely and to share common areas of work for the benefit of all.

“As well as holding the joint meeting with Lifebrain, we also jointly organised the public conference on ‘Brain health across the lifespan’ and we will continue to liaise regularly with the team.”

The joint meeting was followed by the successful public conference ‘Brain health across the lifespan’ as well as the Silver Santé Study’s annual consortium meeting, at which all project partners reported on progress to date and plans for the fifth year of the project.

The consortia of the EU-funded Silver Santé Study and Lifebrain projects following their joint meeting in Berlin in November 2019.

Public and professionals gather for Berlin brain health conference

People from all over Europe gathered in Berlin on November 30th to hear leading European brain health experts discuss the latest scientific evidence on mental health.

The ‘Brain health across the lifespan’ public conference – which was jointly organised by the Silver Santé Study, Lifebrain and the German Brain Council – brought together more than 200 people from as far afield as the Republic of Ireland, France and Switzerland to hear presentations and discussions on a range of brain health topics.

These included the impact of video gaming on the brain, whether styles of thinking can affect dementia risk, how lifestyles shape the brain in health ageing and disease, and the impact of meditation-based interventions.

Dr Gaël Chételat, Silver Santé Study Project Coordinator, and keynote speaker at the conference, said: “This was a rare opportunity for patients, health NGOs, health professionals and researchers to hear about the latest scientific evidence on mental health directly from some of Europe’s leading experts.

“It was a fantastic event which included lots of interesting questions and discussion on a variety of topical points – from video gaming to personalised brain health – and we’ve had excellent feedback from those who attended.”

Speakers at the one-day conference included Silver Santé Study senior researchers, Dr Antoine Lutz, of Inserm, and Dr Natalie Marchant of UCL, as well as Lifebrain researchers such as Professor Ulman Lindenberger of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Professor Lars Nyberg of Umeå University, Sweden.

Professor Ulman Lindenberger of MPI welcomes audience to Brain Health Across the Lifespan public conference at Harnack House, Berlin.

The Silver Santé Study had three speakers at the conference, pictured left to right, Dr Antoine Lutz, of Inserm, Dr Gaël Chételat (Project Coordinator), of Inserm, and Dr Natalie Marchant, of UCL.

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