Clinical trial shows benefit of meditation for treating late-life depression

A new research study from Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University found that a particular type of meditation can be implemented easily and effectively as a therapy to treat late-life depression and mood related symptoms.

Depression in the elderly can be a disabling and debilitating condition often leading to other chronic problems such as heart disease.

“Current treatment options include cognitive behavior therapy, supportive therapy as well as medications that have their own limitations including lack of availability and side effects,” explains Dr. Akshya Vasudev, an Associate Scientist at Lawson and Associate Professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine &Dentistry. “Older adults have a higher rate of comorbid medical conditions that may be associated with poor tolerability of antidepressants and a poorer response to medications.”

Meditation has been shown to have positive impacts while also being easy to facilitate, lacking in negative side effects and delivered at a low long-term cost. The research team, led by Dr. Vasudev, conducted a unique study exploring a meditative technique that has not been investigated before with people experiencing late-life depression.

“We wanted to determine if a Sahaj Samadhi Meditation (SSM), which is easy to learn and can be practiced in a clinical setting as well as at home, could improve depressive symptoms and Heart Rate Variability (HRV), a physiological predictor of subsequent heart disease, in the elderly,” says Dr. Vasudev, who is also a Consultant Geriatric Psychiatrist at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).

There is no existing research specifically on SSM for use as a therapy, especially in a randomized controlled setting. It has been available in India and many other places in the world for nearly 35 years and has led to improved quality of life for those practicing.

The randomized clinical trial involved 83 research patients ages 60-85 from LHSCand St. Joseph’s Health Care London, as well as the regional community, who either received the standard treatment or also practiced the meditation technique.

Participants received four two-hour sessions taught by trained instructors, as well as 11 weekly follow-up sessions while also being able to practice on their own daily. SSM is unique compared to other meditative techniques because it uses a tailored mantra that helps the person achieve a higher state of consciousness and awareness instead of relying on focusing techniques.

Those practicing the meditation reported a significant improvement in the depressive symptoms compared to the group who received only the regular treatment.

“The meditation group had a three times higher chance of going into remission, no longer meeting criteria for depression, compared to usual treatments. In addition, there were no observed side effects,” notes Dr. Vasudev. “We did not find any statistically significant differences in HRV measures between the two groups.” The study is the first to show that this particular form of meditation is beneficial as an adjunctive therapy to regular treatment options.

“Late-life depression affects 300,000 older adults in Canada and is a significant health challenge. As our population ages, we need to find sustainable ways to manage depression and meet the unique needs of these patients,” adds Dr. Vasudev

The study “Effects of Sahaj Samadhi meditation on heart rate variability and depressive symptoms in patients with late-life depression” is published in The British Journal of Psychiatry.


As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and working in partnership with Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute is committed to furthering scientific knowledge to advance health care around the world. 


Western University delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.


The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.

For more information, please contact:

Laura Goncalves
Communications & External Relations
Lawson Health Research Institute
T: 519-685-8500 ext. 64059
C: 226-448-1525