The physical, emotional and psychological effects of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia take a great personal toll. Left unchecked, the caregiver can compromise his or her health.
Preliminary research indicates that people who care for family members with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the home had less perceived stress and mood disturbance when practicing meditation, or as the study called it, mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Another trial indicated that such stress reduction was “more effective at improving overall mental health, reducing stress and decreasing depression” than those who only participated in a caregiver education and support intervention.
Another study at UCLA found that when caregivers use yoga to engage in very brief, easy daily meditations, they experienced lower levels of depression, improved cognitive functioning and a reduction of stress. Yoga and meditation can reduce stress hormones and inflammatory factors, which ultimately helps the person cope more effectively with the stresses of caregiving.
The practice of yoga and meditation also gives caregivers more of a sense of compassion for self and others as well as the ability to become more patient and gentle, which benefits all parties involved.
Additionally, according to The Caregiver's Voice, an online support network for caregivers, meditation and yoga result in more resilience and balance for caregivers as well as bolstering joy that can sustain them through difficult moments. Further, yoga and meditation can be considered as exercise for the brain as the practices engage different parts of the brain, based on the components such as breathing, movement, postures, chanting, visualization and concentration.
Some things to remember when starting a meditation and yoga practice:
- Be patient. It takes time to remove distractions and really develop the practice.
- Shorter intervals of practice are more beneficial than just one big practice each week. A good rule of thumb is to start with 5-10 minutes, three times a week and then increase to 10-20 minutes, five days a week.
- Have a timer ready. Use a kitchen timer, your phone or an app to avoid having to keep checking on time.
- Breathing is fundamental as it helps focus attention on the body and mind, calms the person and sets the tone for the practice.
Learning to practice meditation or yoga is like learning any other skill. Caregivers should start slow and understand personal comfort levels. As always, when beginning any practices that involve physical activity, consult a physician first.