Category Archives: Points of View

Project Coordinator Awarded the MARIE-PAULE BURRUS Prize

By Dr Gaël Chételat project coordinator, Silver Santé Study

(Posted 03 December 2021)

I am very honoured to have been awarded the MARIE-PAULE BURRUS prize at this year’s French Foundation for Medical Research (FRM) ceremony. When I received the email informing me that I was the winner of the prize, I first thought it was spam; then I thought that maybe it was a call encouraging me to apply for the prize; but reading the email again, there was no ambiguity that the prize was already attributed to me. I then thought that maybe it was something I had applied for a long time ago and didn’t remember; so, I looked in my files – but couldn’t find any trace of this award application except in my memory.

It was even more rewarding that it came as a total surprise because, in contrast to most prizes, you don’t have to apply for this one: some benevolent expert nominates you (I think I know the name of the good fairy who proposed my name and I am very grateful to her), and then a jury composed of members from the scientific committee of the FRM selects the winners amongst the nominees. Yves Burrus created this prize in honour of his wife who was living with a neurodegenerative disease.

This prize comes as a very valuable and appreciated acknowledgement of all the work we have carried out over nearly 25 years with my INSERM team in Caen, together with the larger group composed of the Silver Santé Study team over the last 6 years, focused on Alzheimer’s disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and normal ageing. The main goals of the studies are to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, improve diagnosis, but also, importantly, drive prevention.

Dr Gaël Chételat and other laureates (Copyright Julie Bourges)

The Silver Santé Study is focused on prevention. The study aims at evaluating the impact of our lifestyles and of non-pharmacological interventions such as mental training through meditation or English learning, on the well-being and mental health of seniors. Through these studies, we highlighted specific pathological processes involved in Alzheimer’s disease, developed tools to detect the first signs of the disease and distinguish them from normal ageing. We also highlighted relevant lifestyle factors to improve our health and well-being, to better maintain our cognitive functioning with age, and preserve brain health.

All this work would not have been possible without the generous contributions of funds such as those received from the French Foundation for Medical Research as well as the core funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 programme. Thanks must go to members of my team, to whom I am extremely grateful for their overwhelming support and commitment, as well as the Silver Santé Study group for their significant work and research into the mental health and well-being of the ageing population. I am fully aware of how lucky I am to work with you all!

New review of evidence by Silver Santé researchers finds Mindfulness-based Programmes may improve cognition in older adults

By Tim Whitfield, Division of Psychiatry, UCL

(Posted 27th September 2021)


The number of new mindfulness studies being published each year continues to increase. Whilst this offers advantages (e.g. enabling comparisons between studies), it can obscure the bigger picture. This has inspired ‘systematic reviews’ (summaries of all the papers on a topic) and ‘meta-analyses’ (calculations combining results across studies). Silver Santé researchers recently completed a systematic review and meta-analysis to answer the question: ‘Does taking part in a Mindfulness-based Programme boost people’s cognitive abilities?’ [1].

Mindfulness has become a buzzword, with an increasing proportion of the public becoming aware that mindfulness can benefit their mental health. However, researchers have also been investigating whether mindfulness can improve cognitive abilities, for example memory, concentration and planning. Our review ‘zoomed out’ to look at what studies on this question have found out. We focused on a course taught in groups, known as a Mindfulness-based Programme (MBP). MBPs are typically aimed at relative newcomers to mindfulness, are taught by a facilitator over approximately eight weeks, and involve learning practical techniques and theory.

The meta-analysis part of our paper (the part combining data to look at the overall effects) included 45 studies, involving a total of 2,238 participants! Our main result showed that taking part in an MBP resulted in a small boost to cognitive abilities overall. Evaluating different types of cognitive ability separately revealed that there was a specific effect for ‘executive functions’. In plain English, these abilities enable us to manage ourselves and our resources in order to achieve goals.

Next, we divided studies into two groups based on the age of participants. For the younger age group (under 60 years), there was no effect of MBPs overall, whereas for the older group (over 60 years), the effect was stronger than it had been in the original analysis. This finding is exciting, because we all slow down cognitively as we age, while others experience serious brain diseases resulting in dementia. The finding that MBPs might help mental abilities in older adults was thus particularly encouraging.

Whilst this project advances our understanding of the benefits of mindfulness, it’s worth mentioning some limitations. Firstly, whilst we included 45 studies overall, this number was smaller when looking at specific groups and mental abilities. Secondly, when we compared MBPs to other types of group-based programme, we did not find a difference. This hints that taking part in a group programme might be beneficial, rather than mindfulness specifically. Lastly, it was difficult to assess the quality of some of the included studies.

Despite the limitations, this project represents the most comprehensive review on this question to date, and will steer this field of research going forward. We already know that mindfulness benefits wellbeing, and now researchers are unpacking the positive effects on cognitive abilities, too.


[1] T. Whitfield, T. Barnhofer, R. Acabchuk, A. Cohen, M. Lee, M. Schlosser, E. M. Arenaza‑Urquijo, A. Böttcher, W. Britton, N. Coll‑Padros, F. Collette, G. Chételat, S. Dautricourt, H. Demnitz‑King, T. Dumais, O. Klimecki, D. Meiberth, I. Moulinet, T. Müller, E. Parsons, L. Sager, L. Sannemann, J. Scharf, A.‑K. Schild, E. Touron, M. Wirth, Z. Walker, E. Moitra, A. Lutz, S. W. Lazar, D. Vago, N. L. Marchant. The Effect of Mindfulness‑based Programs on Cognitive Function in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta‑analysis. Neuropsychology Review. 2021 Aug 4. doi: 10.1007/s11065-021-09519-y.

Mental health improved after lifestyle changes in older adults

Charlotte Reid bio pic

By Dr Natalie Marchant, Division of Psychiatry, UCL.

(posted 01 June 2021)

As people live longer, cases of dementia are estimated to triple by 2050, creating one of the greatest healthcare challenges of the 21st century.  It is more important than ever that as we get older, we safeguard not only our physical health but our mental health too. Dementia, for example, can create immense emotional and practical challenges for individuals and their families, but there’s also a knock-on effect to society as a whole given the associated emotional, health and social care costs.

Sadly, effective treatments for the underlying illnesses that cause dementia are lacking, making it all the more important to find ways to prevent them.

Over the past 4 years, I have led an EU-funded clinical trial examining whether certain behavioural interventions, like mindfulness or health self-management (learning about healthy lifestyles and planning and achieving personal goals), can help reduce anxiety and improve the mental health of memory clinic patients. These are people who are experiencing problems with their memory that can’t be verified by testing – a condition known as subjective cognitive decline (SCD).

We recruited 147 volunteers from memory clinics in the UK, France, Germany and Spain and randomly assigned them to either an eight-week mindfulness course or an eight-week health self-management course. All were tested before the course, just after and once again six months later. Although we expected meditation to have more of an impact on mental health, the results released today – show that in both groups, anxiety levels dropped after the course and the effects could still be seen six months later.  There was no difference between the two interventions in anxiety symptom reduction.

These results are exciting as they show that taking a short course in mindfulness or health self-management can lead to small but significant reductions in anxiety levels which, in turn could help prevent further cognitive decline and the onset of dementia. These findings must, however, be interpreted with caution because our study did not include a passive control condition (where participants do not take part in any intervention) which would help us to understand whether the reductions in anxiety were specifically due to the lifestyle changes promoted by the interventions.

Even allowing for the fact that people with anxiety tend to benefit from the social interaction that taking part in a group provides, these results are encouraging and will help inform strategies aimed at improving mental health in older adults.

Blood serotonin levels may be crucial to regulating emotional responses

By Dr. Yacila Deza-Araujo

(posted 11th May 2021)

yacila-deza-araujoSerotonin – a neurotransmitter which helps regulate emotional well-being and other important physiological functions – can decrease in the brain as we age. Although this statement is still a matter of debate [1, 2], we know that several studies have observed less availability of this neurotransmitter in specific parts of the ageing brain [2].

Similarly, clinical studies have demonstrated that some symptoms of depression in older adults become less pronounced after treatments that boost brain serotonin availability. Therefore, the popular belief that serotonin is the ’happiness hormone’ is not far from the truth.

Our study [3] was led by  the Silver Santé Study’s Emotion Work Package in close relation with the blood markers workgroup (namely Géraldine Poisnel and Anne Chocat), using data from the Age-Well trial. In this context, our study shows that the blood levels of serotonin may be crucial to regulate the activity of some brain areas associated with emotional responses.

Specifically, we observed that participants with lower levels of serotonin in their blood have more brain activity in certain parts of the brain when viewing videos depicting others suffering. These brain regions are well known to be implicated in the processing of salient emotional stimuli (i.e., insula), in the regulation of strong emotions (i.e., dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) and in the expression of sadness (i.e., subgenual cingulate cortex).

This discovery might also give us some idea of the level of empathy that the participants experienced when observing these videos. Interestingly, however, we did not see any relation between blood serotonin and behavioural measures of emotions and prosocial behaviour -“voluntary actions that are intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals” [4]. Before our study, the relationship between serotonin in the blood and emotional brain activity had only been investigated in patients with depression and younger people. Our study investigated for the first time, this relationship in older adults.

We are confident that our results, as well as other findings from the Silver Santé Study, will contribute to increasing the understanding of determinant factors that might improve the mental well-being of older adults and therefore decrease the risk of mood disorders and dementia.


1.            Rosa-Neto, P., et al., Brain regional alpha-[11C]methyl-L-tryptophan trapping, used as an index of 5-HT synthesis, in healthy adults: absence of an age effect. Eur J Nucl Med Mol Imaging, 2007. 34(8): p. 1254-64.

2.            Karrer, T.M., et al., Reduced serotonin receptors and transporters in normal aging adults: a meta-analysis of PET and SPECT imaging studies. Neurobiology of Aging, 2019. 80: p. 1-10.

3.            Deza-Araujo, Y.I., et al., Whole blood serotonin levels in healthy elderly are negatively associated with the functional activity of emotion-related brain regions. Biol Psychol, 2021. 160: p. 108051.

4.         Eisenberg, N and Mussen, P H. The Roots of Prosocial Behavior in Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989: p 3.

Quality of life and brain health in older adults

By Valentin Ourry

(posted 16th March 2021)

Ageing well is not just having good cognitive and brain health, it is also having good physical and mental health – a good quality of life.

The World Health Organization defines quality of life as “individuals’ perceptions of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. This  encompasses many aspects – or domains – including physical health, psychological health, social relationships, as well as our relationship with the environment [1].

As we age, quality of life can decrease [2]. Interestingly, previous studies have shown that better quality of life is related to greater brain volume in older adults [3], [4]. However, these studies did not look at the multi-faceted domains of quality of life with multimodal brain measurements. Yet this is crucial to better understand the mechanisms of the relationship between quality of life and brain health, and more specifically: i) to identify the specific aspect of quality of life that is more related to brain health, and ii) to provide a comprehensive overview of the nature of the relationship.

In our study [5], we included the 135 participants of the Age-Well cohort from the Medit-Ageing project. Participants completed a multi-domain quality of life questionnaire devised by the World Health Organization. Using a range of neuroimaging techniques, we were able to obtain their detailed brain characteristics: grey matter volume (density of neurons), white matter microstructural integrity (density of axons), perfusion (quality of blood circulation) and amyloid deposition (one of the biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease). We then assessed whether there were any links between each quality of life domain and each brain characteristic. Interestingly, we found that better quality of life, particularly physical health, was related to brain structures (greater grey matter volume and white matter microstructural integrity) in regions relevant to ageing. No link was found with brain perfusion or amyloid deposition. The results highlight the relevance of monitoring and promoting quality of life in the older population, and particularly self-perceived physical health.

Better understanding the relationship between quality of life and brain health in ageing is an important part of the Medit-Ageing project. This is because we believe that mental training may help us to age well and maintain a good quality of life – one of the main goals of the Medit-Ageing project.


[1]       The WHOQOL Group, “Development of the WHOQOL: Rationale and Current Status,” International Journal of Mental Health, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 24–56, Sep. 1994, doi: 10.1080/00207411.1994.11449286.

[2]       G. Netuveli, R. D. Wiggins, Z. Hildon, S. M. Montgomery, and D. Blane, “Quality of life at older ages: evidence from the English longitudinal study of aging (wave 1),” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 357–363, Apr. 2006, doi: 10.1136/jech.2005.040071.

[3]       V. Elderkin-Thompson, M. Ballmaier, G. Hellemann, D. Pham, H. Lavretsky, and A. Kumar, “Daily Functioning and Prefrontal Brain Morphology in Healthy and Depressed Community-Dwelling Elderly,” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol. 16, no. 8, pp. 633–642, Aug. 2008, doi: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181794629.

[4]       S. Hahm, M. Lotze, M. Domin, and S. Schmidt, “The association of health-related quality of life and cerebral gray matter volume in the context of aging: A voxel-based morphometry study with a general population sample,” NeuroImage, vol. 191, pp. 470–480, May 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.02.035.

[5]       V. Ourry et al., “Association of quality of life with structural, functional and molecular brain imaging in community-dwelling older adults,” NeuroImage, vol. 231, p. 117819, May 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117819.

Communication – an essential element of publicly-funded projects

By Rhonda Smith

(posted 19th March 2020)

Teams working on EU-funded projects have a contractual duty to share their aims, progress and results with a range of stakeholders – from policy-makers and governmental institutions, to civil society, the commercial sector and members of the public.

After all, what’s the point of the public purse funding health research if the results aren’t shared, applied and put to good use for the benefit of all of society?

That’s why communications is embedded in the design of the Silver Santé Study project and have been delivered since its launch in 2016. Through a broad range of channels – websites, social media, public meetings, publications, newsletters, newspaper articles, and TV and radio interviews – the Study’s communications team in partnership with  all its researchers are working hard to engage with and communicate the project’s work to lay and professional audiences. We identify news from our project partners of interest to the public and targeted stakeholders and write stories for the project websites and newsletters. For example, as scientific papers are published, we do our best to make sure the findings are communicated via external channels to as broad an audience as possible, stimulate interest and encourage engagement. Gathering and creating photos and audio visual material based on the work of the project’s research teams, managing the project’s social media accounts, and liaison with journalists interested in writing about mental health and meditation fills our working days..

The aim of the Silver Santé Study is to identify the determinants of a healthy later life and to develop programmes that we can all use to safeguard our mental health, well-being and quality of life as we age. Our researchers are examining whether mental training techniques – such as meditation or learning a language – can make a difference to well-being throughout the life course. What makes the study unique is that it’s the longest ever study of both meditation and language learning and it’s the first to examine the emotional aspects of ageing and mental health – all points that make the findings of great interest, particularly with regard to informing mental health policies.

As the project is now in its final year, our communications work will soon come to a crescendo helping to cascade methodologies, data and results  to a broad range of interested and influential audiences across Europe. The overall aim is to drive utilisation of that generated knowledge in the development of new policies and practices.  Click here to watch our short project video explaining our aims, the research, and what we hope it will achieve for both individuals and for society as a whole.

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:


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.


[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

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.

A first taste of mindfulness meditation

Despite its popularity, most people – myself included – know very little about mindfulness in its various forms. While I’ve followed a few short mindfulness sessions on an app at home, I confess that I couldn’t tell you the difference between mindfulness and meditation or about the different types. So when I had the opportunity to try out some meditation techniques as part of my work managing communications for the Silver Santé Study, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more.

The project’s coordinating team arranged for all the project’s partners to take part in a morning-long session trying out a variety of mindfulness meditation techniques as part of the project’s annual meeting in Liége, Belgium, late last year. Leading the session, for 22 participants, was experienced meditation instructor and author, Martine Batchelor, who has been teaching meditation for many years and has led sessions with the volunteers taking part in the Study’s clinical trials.

At the start of the session, our first job was to sit comfortably, upright in the chair or on the floor – whichever was more comfortable – and to make sure our feet were connected to the ground. We were then asked to close our eyes and to concentrate on our breathing – breathing in….breathing out… allowing ourselves to breath naturally but taking notice of the rhythm of our breathing and how it made the different parts of our bodies move as we inhaled and exhaled.  As I listened to Martine’s gentle voice and focused intently on the rhythm of my own breathing, I could feel myself becoming more and more deeply relaxed. At one point, I actually fell asleep for a few seconds.

Breathing, and being mindful of each breath, appeared to be at the core of all the meditation techniques that followed in our session.

Next we tried out body scan meditation, which involved concentrating on one part of the body at a time and working our way from head to toe – each time being encouraged to notice any sensations, whether it was being aware of a foot touching the ground or how our clothes brushed against our skin. If our thoughts wandered, we were encouraged to gently bring them back to the present moment, to experience the here and now, being aware of any background sounds in the room.

We moved on to another technique – standing meditation – in which we stood behind our chairs with legs slightly apart and hands either by our sides or comfortably resting on the backs of the chairs. Personally, I found it harder to meditate while standing, but perhaps with more practice it becomes easier.

The next meditation type experienced was gratitude and appreciation meditation which focuses on contemplating the things for which we feel grateful – for example, our good health, loved ones or nature. In our session we were encouraged to think about our own bodies and to tell ourselves that we appreciate certain features we’re happy with. I wasn’t the only person to struggle a little with this concept but perhaps that’s a sign that we need it more than others!

Lastly, we tried compassion or loving kindness meditation, which is said to help you become more compassionate towards yourself and others.  We were asked to think about ourselves, someone we care about, someone we feel neutral about, and someone we have a little difficulty with and to recite silently, inwardly, a series of phrases. Thinking of each person in turn we said:

“May you have happiness, may you be free from suffering, may you experience joy and ease.”

The repeating phrases element of this technique came less naturally to me than the more basic breathing and body scan techniques. Perhaps, in time, I would grow more accustomed to it, but this was a completely new experience and a technique I certainly didn’t take to immediately.

By the end of the session, I felt both relaxed and invigorated and came away with a very positive view of meditation and with a few useful techniques, such as breathing and body scan meditation, which I will definitely put to good use at home to help with relaxation and to de-stress.

It is hoped that the results of the Silver Santé Study, the first of which are expected in 2019, will contribute to important discussions about how the general population can maintain a good quality of life and help decision-makers devise policies that will help reduce the cost of care for age-related illnesses.  But, perhaps most importantly, the project team hopes the results will enable its team of experts to develop specific tools and techniques that we can all use to help safeguard our mental health in later life, allowing us to be healthier and happier throughout our lives.


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