Meditation Helps Caregivers

Twenty minutes per day of either meditation or relaxation improved depression scores in family caregivers of people with dementia. However, meditation seemed to provide additional benefits according to a pilot study involving thirty-nine caregivers.

Mental functioning and cognition scores improved significantly in the meditation group, compared with the relaxation group.

The 23 caregivers in the meditation group averaged 61 years of age and the 16 caregivers in the relaxation group averaged 61 years of age. They had been caring for a family member with dementia for five years and four years, respectively. Hamilton Rating Scale–Depression scores at baseline were 11.8 in the meditation group and 11.4 in the relaxation group.

Participants in the meditation group were trained in a yoga practice of meditation called Kirtan Kriya that involves chanting, breath work, and finger poses.

Participants in the control group were asked to rest quietly while listening to relaxation recordings. Each group devoted 20 minutes per day to the activity for 8 weeks.

In both groups, devoting time each day to self-care was new to participants.

Hamilton Rating Scale–Depression scores improved by 7 points in the meditation group and by 5 points in the relaxation group. The perceived burden of care improved in both groups.

In the meditation group, 52% showed at least a 50% improvement on the 36-item short form health survey global mental health score, compared with 19% in the relaxation group.

Measures of cognition also improved significantly in the meditation group, compared with the relaxation group.

Intranuclear staining and flow cytometry showed that a significantly lower proportion of lymphocytes was positive for nuclear transcription factor–kappa beta (a protein complex that has been linked to chronic stress and inflammatory responses) in the meditation group, compared with the relaxation group.

The meditation group showed increased telomerase activity, compared with the relaxation group. Telomere length and telomerase activity are markers of biological age linking stress and disease. PET scan results suggest that improvements in cognition were associated with changes in regional brain metabolism in areas relevant for executive dysfunction and global cognition.

This and other studies suggest that meditation, tai chi, or other mind-body techniques seem to be helpful stress reducing therapies for family caregivers of people with dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation funded this study. Helen Lavretsky, MD, and Michael Irwin, MD, reported the outcome of this study in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Lavretsky and Dr. Irwin are professors of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Source: Elsevier Global Medical News 10/13/11