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Benefits of Yoga Meditation for Caregivers

A recent study at UCLA involving family caregivers and late-life depression revealed that yoga meditation helped reduce the symptoms of depression while showing improvement in overall mental health of study participants.

The study conducted by UCLA’s Stress and Wellness Research Program, involved 49 family caregivers between the ages of 45 and 91 each taking care of a parent or a spouse suffering from dementia. Participants were divided into two groups with one group participating in a 12 minute Yoga meditation called Kirtan Kriya and the other group relaxing with eyes closed while listening to 12 minutes of instrumental music at the same time daily for a span of eight weeks.

Madonna Yoga Pose

At the end of the eight week study, researchers found that the group doing Yoga meditation showed improved mental health and significantly lower symptoms of depression when compare with the group that relaxed to music. Cognitive functions were also up in the Yoga group and researchers attribute this to the ‘brain fitness’ aspect of Kirtan Kriya meditation.

Meditation Helps Reduce Symptoms of Depression

Why is this particular Yoga exercise so beneficial? Historically Kirtan Kriya was sometimes called the singing exercise that involved chanting while doing repetitive finger positions called mudras. Research into practicing mudras has suggested that the combination of chanting along with finger exercise is increasing blood flow to the motor-sensory area of the brain. The exercise also involves visualizing and a combination of all of these, contributes to the effectiveness of the practice.

Yoga meditation is described as being a valuable way in which to deal with the struggles and emotions of the day and for family caregivers this is important. Meditation can allow a person to rise above negativity and in doing so, experience an overall more enjoyable day. Conversely when no time is spent on oneself it’s easier to become overwhelmed and slip into a pattern of negativity and depression.

Caregiver Depression in Family Dementia

Dr. Helen Lavretsky the Director of Stress and Wellness Research at UCLA states in conjunction with the Yoga study, that statistics on clinical depression in family dementia caregivers is nearing 50 percent. She states that the added weight of depression on family caregivers many of whom are also older, is making them less resistant to the effects of stress and that in turn is putting them at higher risk of health issues of their own.

Trend toward mental health and wellness in seniors’ communities

There’s no one-size fits all solution to the physical and emotional impact that caregiving has on family and non-family caregivers; but the results of this study underline the value in taking time each day for some form of meditation.

In browsing the types of care homes and retirement homes throughout Canada, I’ve noted a distinct trend with Alzheimer’s care, independent living and assisted living communities, that there’s a focus on group activity, social engagement and the availability for reflective alone time. Activities like Yoga classes with the group or a walk in a community garden, both provide ways of taking time away from stress. And whether we are caring for others in a senior home setting or as a caregiver in a family home, pausing daily to reflect or meditate can mean the difference between an overwhelming day or one that has a sense of calm.

References: Alzheimer’s blog at mayoclinic.com 

By Alice Lucette

Alice Lucette is an expert blogger for SeniorsZen.com.

1 Comment

  1. smithsonanne

    June 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    This is a great article. I think it is important for caregivers to try yoga, meditation, and other methods of caring for themselves. Caregiving is already such a difficult and stressful job, even if a rewarding one. Over at healthjourneys.com Belleruth Naparstek has quite a bit of research about the benefits of yoga and meditation. These techniques really do seem to work.

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