According to a research study, mindfulness training can ease depression and improve sleep and quality of life for both people with early-stage dementia and their caregivers. “The disease is challenging for the affected person, family members, and caregivers,” says study lead author Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University and a fellow of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“Although they know things will likely get worse, they can learn to focus on the present, deriving enjoyment in the moment with acceptance and without excessive worry about the future. This is what was taught in the mindfulness program.” Alzheimer’s disease can be hard on caregivers. They tend to have an increased incidence of anxiety, depression, immune dysfunction, and other health issues. Additionally, according to previous studies, they also have an increased mortality rate. This new study, is the first study to show that both the caregiver and the patient can benefit from undergoing mindfulness training together. This is extremely important since caregivers tend to not have as much time on their own for activities that could relive their emotional burden.
This study had 37 participants including 29 individuals who were part of a patient-caregiver pair. Most of the patients were diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. Others had memory loss due to strokes or fontotemporal dementia. Caregivers included spouses, adult children, and other family members. The participants attended eight sessions designed specifically for the needs of patients with memory loss due to the terminal neurodegenerative illness and for the needs of their caregivers. Each group completed an assessment within two weeks of starting the program and within two weeks of completing.
Paller had expected mindfulness to be helpful for dementia caregivers based on previous research in the field, however, he wasn’t certain whether the patients and their caregivers could be trained together. “We saw lower depression scores and improved ratings on sleep quality and quality of life for both groups,” says Paller, director of the cognitive neuroscience program. “After eight sessions of this training we observed a positive difference in their lives.”