Do Meditation and Language Training Really Impact Cognition in Older Adults?

Meditation and non-native language training did not boost cognition among older adults who were cognitively healthy.

Neither meditation training nor non-native language training boost cognition among older adults who are cognitively healthy, according to study findings published in JAMA Network Open.

Meditation and non-native language training have been recommended as possible ways to enhance cognition among aging individuals, although quality research as to the effects of these interventions is limited.

Between November 2016 and March 2018, researchers conducted a monocentric, observer-masked, randomized clinical trial, Study in Cognitively Intact Seniors Aiming to Assess the Effects of Meditation Training (Age-Well; Identifier: NCT02977819) enrolling community-dwelling adults living in Caen, France who were aged 65 years and older, had been retired for at least 1 year, and had completed a minimum of 7 years of education. The final follow-up took place on February 6, 2020 with analysis of data from December 2021 and November 2022.

Of the 137 participants randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups, 134 completed the entire study. Of these 134 individuals who were French-speaking, 45 received English-language training for 18 months, 45 received meditation training for 18 months, and 44 were assigned to a control group that did not receive any intervention and lived as usual.

These findings challenge prevailing hypotheses that meditation training and non-native language training improve cognition in older adults.

Both intervention groups received 2-hour weekly group sessions, daily home practice for a minimum of 20 minutes each day, and 1 day of intensive home practice lasting 5 hours. The meditation training focused on mindfulness, kindness, and compassion, whereas the language training focused on understanding, writing, and speaking in non-native English.

Before and after the 18-month training period, each participant underwent cognitive testing with the Preclinical Alzheimer Cognitive Composite 5 (PACC5), which assessed episodic memory, global cognition, semantic memory, and executive function. In addition to the PACC5, other cognitive tests that assessed episodic memory, executive function, and attention also were administered.

Individuals in the meditation group demonstrated declines in PACC5 scoring (change of -0.26; 95% CI, -0.46 to -0.06) with no improvements in episodic memory (0.06; 95% CI, -0.17 to 0.29) or executive function (0.08; 95% CI, -0.10 to 0.26).

Individuals in the non-native language group did not demonstrate any cognitive changes as reflected by PACC5 scoring (0.07; 95% CI, -0.14 to 0.27) or episodic memory (0.11; 95 CI, -0.13 to 0.34); however, their executive function did slightly improve (0.25; 95% CI, 0.07 to 0.43).

Individuals in the control group who did not change their habits did not demonstrate any changes in PACC5 scoring (-0.14; 95% CI, -0.34 to 0.07), episodic memory (-0.23; 95% CI, -0.46 to 0.01), or executive function (0.14; 95% CI, -0.05 to 0.32).

Interestingly, all 3 groups demonstrated improvements in attention (mediation training: 0.29; 95% CI, 0.13 to 0.45; non-native language training: 0.27; 95% CI, 0.11 to 0.44; no intervention: 0.35; 95% CI, 0.18 to 0.51), indicating that either intervention did not affect attention more than no intervention.

The researchers suggested that these trainings may preserve, not enhance cognition. They were unable to assess any lasting effects of either intervention as cognition was assessed immediately following the last intervention. They also included healthy, educated participants, which may have affected generalizability of findings.

“Contrary to expectations, there was no effect of intervention group on changes in global cognition, episodic memory, executive function, or attention,” the researchers wrote. They concluded, “These findings challenge prevailing hypotheses that meditation training and non-native language training improve cognition in older adults.”

Disclosures: Several study authors disclosed conflicts of interest. Please see original source for full list of disclosures.


Demnitz-King H, Requier F, Whitfield T, et al. Effects of meditation training and non-native language training on cognition in older adults: a secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Netw Open. Published online July 14, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.17848