Do You Mind? Meditation for Caregivers

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It’s time to take up meditation. A new UCLA study shows it’s a great stress-buster for caregivers–better, in fact, than a relaxation CD. Participants were taking care of family members with dementia, but it could really apply to any group–and not just caregivers. Who wouldn’t want to feel less depressed and have a sharp brain?

Here are the details from one of my weekly AARP blogs:

For dementia caregivers, it seems that daily meditation can lower depression, improve cognitive functioning—yes, we’re talking about the caregiver here—and even reduce cellular aging caused by stress.

According to a recent UCLA study reported in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, meditation did a better job of keeping the blues at bay than a relaxation CD given to caregivers.

This study may be small, but compelling because:

  • 5.4 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s
  • More than 15 million Americans do unpaid caregiving for those with dementia
  • 80% of care is provided at home by family caregivers
  • Close to 50% of family dementia caregivers are clinically depressed

Researchers had 49 family caregivers 45-91 years old (36 adult children and 13 spouses) divide into two groups. The meditation group learned a 12-minute Kirtan Kriya yoga practice that included chanting, finger poses, and visualization meditation.

The second group listened to instrumental music on a CD in a quiet place with their eyes closed. The groups did either meditation or relaxation listening at the same time every day for eight weeks.

And the winner is. . .meditation, with 65% showing a 50% improvement on a depression scale (vs. 31% for the CD group), and 52% with a 50% improvement in mental health and cognitive functioning (compared to 19%).

But the next finding may take your breath away. Meditation slowed cellular aging by increasing telomerase activity. Before I lose you: An enzyme known as telomerase is associated with health risks and diseases that can be regulated by stress. Without telomerase activity, the cells divide, and telomeres, as they’re called, become so short they die. So the more there’s telomerase activity, the longer the immune cells will last.

The group practicing meditation had a whopping 43% improvement in telomerase activity, while the relaxation group scored just 3.7%.

UCLA’s caregiver program has added yoga/meditation to its offerings. This doesn’t mean the relaxation CD wasn’t valuable. It, too, reduced depression, boosted mental function, and hiked telomerase activity.

You probably don’t have to take care of someone with dementia to benefit from the UCLA findings, either. Stress from any kind of caregiving can lead to poor mental and physical health. And, meditation can relax the body and the mind.

I’m planning on boning up on Kirtan Kriya. How about you? Here are some resources:

Or, contemplate these other articles on the power of meditation:

  1. Free mindful meditation podcasts from UCLA 
  2. Help for family dementia caregivers 
  3. American Meditation Institute


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Award-winning writer specializing in aging and baby boomers for national and custom magazines, the web, companies, and organizations.

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Check out my latest work for AARP, inspiring people age 50+ for TIME, and my MetLife report on purpose in later life.

Recipient of two fellowships on aging from the New York Times Foundation and the MetLife Foundation.

Blogger for the Huffington Post's new Huff/Post 50 section.


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