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French Ministry of Health invites project to meeting on mindfulness meditation

Silver Santé Study Coordinator, Dr Gaël Chételat, was invited to take part in a conference on mindfulness meditation organised by the French Ministry of Health and Public Health France in Paris.

The event, which took place on 20th June at the Ministry of Solidarity and Health, focused on the development of health and well-being interventions based on mindfulness and brought together experts from a variety of fields to discuss and question how mindfulness can be applied in society.

Dr Chételat presented the scope and aims of the Silver Santé Study as part of a roundtable session on the application of mindfulness interventions in different environments, which included ageing, justice, education, health and work.

“I was very pleased to take part in the meeting,” says Dr Chételat. “I think it helped dispel some of the misconceptions that exist about mindfulness meditation and made clear that it is a secular activity that is accessible to all in society.

“It also explored the potential for meditation to be used in a variety of environments – whether it’s at work, in education or in healthy ageing so the Silver Santé Study’s work investigating the impact of mental training techniques, like meditation and language-learning, was highly relevant.”

Dr Chételat was one of a number of scientists invited to speak at the meeting including Professor Jean-Gérard Bloch of the University of Strasbourg and Judson Brewer, Director of Research and the Mindfulness Centre at Brown University, US.  The meeting, facilitated by health journalist Elisabeth Marshall, was opened by the Director General of the French health department, Jerome Salomon.

For further information about the event visit the French Ministry of Health website here.

Caption: Dr Gaël Chételat (centre) taking part in a panel discussion with health journalist, Elisabeth Marshall (left), and Dominique Steiler, Chair of “Economic Peace, Mindfulness and Well-being at Work” at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

Scientific papers added to website

A list of the scientific papers published by Silver Santé Study researchers as part of the study has been uploaded to the project website.

The new page – “Project Publications” – lists five scientific papers, three published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research and clinical interventions, one in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy and a fifth which has been accepted for publication in Current Opinion in Psychology. Links to each paper are included.

More papers will be added as they are accepted for publication so check back regularly to see our latest work. Click here to visit the page.

The Silver Santé Study’s expert researchers at the 2019 annual consortium meeting in Liège.

Follow-up tests added to Age-Well trial

Following the completion of the first wave of Silver Santé Study’s Age-Well clinical trial, the volunteers have agreed to take part in additional follow-up tests at 21 months. This is to further strengthen validation of the trial by studying whether the effects of mental training techniques persist over time.

Over the last 18 months, the group of 42 older adults aged 65+ has been helping our expert researchers learn more about mental health & well-being in the ageing population. After taking part in a series of baseline tests, each volunteer was randomly assigned to one of three groups – an English language course, a meditation course, or a control group in which participants made no changes to their lifestyle.

Volunteers in Wave 2 will undertake their end of intervention visits in May 2019, and the Wave 3 volunteers have recently finished the nine-month visit.

Blood tests, neuroimaging scans and questionnaires have been used by our expert researchers to assess the impact of the mental training techniques on the brain. The volunteers’ lifestyle habits – such as sleep, diet, physical exercise and emotions – have also been monitored.

The results of the Age-Well trial are expected to be released in 2020.

Caption: Age-Well volunteers taking part in an English learning class at the University of Caen, France.

Join us at the ‘Brain health across the lifespan’ public conference

Are you interested in hearing from some of Europe’s leading brain health experts on mental health and well-being?

Then take a look at the programme for our “Brain health across the lifespan” public conference aimed at healthcare specialists, researchers, patient groups, professional societies and patients with an interest in brain health. Jointly organised by the EU-funded Silver Santé Study and Lifebrain Project as well as the German Brain Council, the event will take place in Berlin on Wednesday 6th November and will cover topics such as promoting healthy brain ageing, styles of thinking and how they affect dementia risk, and whether video gaming affects the brain.

Silver Santé Study Project Coordinator and keynote speaker at the conference, Dr Gaël Chételat, said: “As an EU-funded project, we are delighted to have this opportunity to share our work directly with individuals and organisations with an interest in brain health and we would urge anyone with an interest in this field to attend.

“Several of our senior Silver Santé researchers will be speaking at the conference, alongside experts from Lifebrain and the German Brain Council and other invited speakers, and we look forward to contributing to interesting discussions about mental health and well-being on the day.”

Experts from the Silver Santé Study, Lifebrain and the German Brain Council will discuss the latest experimental approaches and evidence from these two major European research consortia regarding the impact of socioeconomic factors, physical activity, nutrition, and mental training on cognitive function, mental health, and well-being throughout life.

These results will also be explored in light of prevention and intervention strategies for brain disorders. The conference will gather European speakers from different research areas including psychology, neurology, neuroimaging, psychiatry, genetics, epidemiology, molecular biology, and medicine. Click here to download the full conference programme.

Anyone wishing to attend the conference must register via our Eventbrite page before 1st October 2019. A maximum of 180 places are available on a first come, first served basis.

Interested in joining the Silver Santé Study team?

2 year Post-doc Position (Neuroimaging and Psychology)
at the University of Geneva

In the context of the European project “Medit-Ageing – investigating the impact of
meditation training on mental health and well-being in the ageing population”, the Swiss
Center for Affective Sciences (University of Geneva) offers a post-doc position in the
worpackage “Emotion” (Workpackage leader: Dr. Olga Klimecki, deputy: Prof. Dr. Patrik
Vuilleumier).

Project Summary

This project studies the role that emotions and their malleability play in healthy ageing. To
this end, we collect and analyze self-report measures, measures of social behaviour,
cognitive tests and functional magnetic resonance imaging data. We also closely
collaborate with our partner institutions in Caen and Lyon (France), London (UK),
Cologne (Germany), and Barcelona (Spain).
For more information, please visit: https://www.unige.ch/cisa/index.php?cID=1253

About our Center

The Swiss Center for Affective Sciences (director: Prof. David Sander) is one of the first
research centers worldwide dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of emotions and their
effects on human behavior and society.

Candidates

We invite applications from outstanding candidates with experience in analyzing and
publishing emotion-related data in the fields of psychology and neuroimaging.
Applications will be considered until the position is filled.

If you are interested, please e-mail your letter of motivation, your CV, your publications,
and the full contact details of two referees to olga.klimecki@unige.ch 

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.

 

Brain health across the lifespan programme published

Are you interested in hearing from some of Europe’s leading brain health experts on mental health and well-being?

Then take a look at the programme for our “Promoting brain health across the lifespan” public conference aimed at healthcare specialists, researchers, patient groups, professional societies and patients with an interest in brain health. Jointly organised by the EU-funded Silver Santé Study and Lifebrain Project as well as the German Brain Council, the event will take place in Berlin on Wednesday 6th November and will cover topics such as promoting healthy brain ageing, styles of thinking and how they affect dementia risk and whether video gaming affects the brain.

Silver Santé Study Project Coordinator and keynote speaker at the conference, Dr Gaël Chételat, said: “As an EU-funded project, we are delighted to have this opportunity to share our work directly with individuals and organisations with an interest in brain health and we would urge anyone with an interest in this field to attend.

“Several of our senior Silver Santé researchers will be speaking at the conference, alongside experts from Lifebrain and the German Brain Council and other invited speakers, and we look forward to contributing to interesting discussions about mental health and well-being on the day.”

Experts from the Silver Santé Study, Lifebrain and the German Brain Council will discuss the latest experimental approaches and evidence from these two major European research consortia regarding the impact of socioeconomic factors, physical activity, nutrition, and mental training on cognitive function, mental health, and well-being throughout life.

These results will also be explored in light of prevention and intervention strategies for brain disorders. The conference will gather European speakers from different research areas including psychology, neurology, neuroimaging, psychiatry, genetics, epidemiology, molecular biology, and medicine. Click here to download the full conference programme.

Anyone wishing to attend the conference must register via our Eventbrite page before 1st October 2019. A maximum of 180 places are available on a first come, first served basis.

 

Follow-up tests added to Age-Well trial

Following the completion of the first wave of Silver Santé Study’s Age-Well clinical trial, the volunteers have agreed to take part in additional follow-up tests at 21 months. This is to further strengthen validation of the trial by studying whether the effects of mental training techniques persist over time.

Over the last 18 months, the group of 42 older adults aged 65+ has been helping our expert researchers learn more about mental health & well-being in the ageing population. After taking part in a series of baseline tests, each volunteer was randomly assigned to one of three groups – an English language course, a meditation course, or a control group in which participants made no changes to their lifestyle.

Volunteers in Wave 2 will undertake their end of intervention visits in May 2019, and the Wave 3 volunteers have recently finished the nine-month visit.

Blood tests, neuroimaging scans and questionnaires have been used by our expert researchers to assess the impact of the mental training techniques on the brain. The volunteers’ lifestyle habits – such as sleep, diet, physical exercise and emotions – have also been monitored.

The results of the Age-Well trial are expected to be released in 2020.

Caption: Age-Well volunteers taking part in an English learning class at the University of Caen, France.

Scientific papers added to website

A list of the scientific papers published by Silver Santé Study researchers as part of the study has been uploaded to the project website.

The new page – “Project Publications” – lists five scientific papers, three published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research and clinical interventions, one in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy and a fifth which has been accepted for publication in Current Opinion in Psychology. Links to each paper are included.

More papers will be added as they are accepted for publication so check back regularly to see our latest work. Click here to visit the page.

The Silver Santé Study’s expert researchers at the 2019 annual consortium meeting in Liège.

Can healthy lifestyle choices help prevent dementia?

By Dr Eider M Arenaza-Urquijo 

(posted 16th December 2016)

There is now much evidence to support the idea that healthy lifestyle choices may play an important role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.  Studies show that keeping mentally and physically active may offer protection against developing cognitive decline and dementia.

For almost four years, we have been using advanced neuroimaging techniques in our Caen laboratory in order to understand how lifespan mental and physical activities influence our brain, notably in later life. We have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the volume, structure and neural activity of the brain and positron emission tomography (PET), a technique that allows measuring the metabolic activity of the brain.

Several neuroimaging studies point to the idea that mental and physical activities throughout life are related to preserved brain structure and function in later life. In our laboratory, we have studied the brains of a group of people aged between 60 and 80 years old in relation to the number of years they attended school (as an indicator of mental activity early in life). Participants who spent longer at school had more preserved brain tissues, elevated metabolic function and stronger connections between different brain regions. These regions included the hippocampus and the frontal lobe – both especially vulnerable to ageing and Alzheimer’s disease processes. The stronger connections between these areas sustained better performances in functions such as memory or attention in participants who spent longer at school.

So is it ever too late to adopt healthy lifestyle habits? A recent review that collected and analyzed multiple research studies indicates that even making changes later in life could reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In line with this idea, we recently showed that older adults (60-90 years) who are currently more frequently engaged in mental or physical activities – such as reading or playing games, walking or gardening – had larger hippocampal and frontal regions. Notably, both kinds of activities seem to have a positive effect on these brain structures in a complementary way.

Unfortunately, having a healthy lifestyle does not necessarily prevent you from developing Alzheimer’s disease. The development of dementia is a complex process that involves several factors, such as genetics, lifestyle and environment. Studies, however, suggest that positive lifestyle factors may counteract the harmful deleterious effects of genes. In a recent study we observed that people carrying the highest known genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease but who were highly cognitively engaged, had elevated metabolic function in some brain areas relating to memory performance. Moreover, when Alzheimer’s disease pathology is present in the brain, the brains of individuals with a higher engagement in cognitive and physical activities might be better equipped to compensate for the pathology, meaning that the onset of the symptoms might be delayed.

As part of the Silver Santé Study, we are translating all this promising evidence into a mental training program for adults aged 65 years or older, who will take part in the study for 18 months. This will allow us to observe how their brain structure and function change in response to training. We hope this will provide us with a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying mental activity in later life and how that relates to brain and cognitive health.

 

Sources:

Arenaza-Urquijo et al., Neuroimage, 2013 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23796547

Arenaza-Urquijo, de Flores et al., Brain Imaging and Behavior, 2016 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27757821

Arenaza-Urquijo et al., Neurology, 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26408498

Arenaza-Urquijo et al., Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26321944

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