Mindfulness: Finding What’s Really Important

While mindfulness and meditation dates back to Eastern religion, mindfulness is starting to become more mainstream and exercised in varying life stages, including in the senior population. But why is mindfulness important and how might seniors benefit from the timeless practice?

Understanding Mindfulness and Programs

Simply stated, mindfulness is a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, encouraging its believers and followers to make the most out of the situation at hand. One of the greatest aspects of mindfulness is its benefit throughout the lifespan, even extending in the senior populations. Well-versed trainings and programs are becoming more and more established and dispersed, including mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive approach for seniors (MBCAS):

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

MBSR is a program aiming to teach individuals on how to lower stress through mindfulness, encouraging them to be fully present and aware in the moment. The skill promotes paying attention and being aware of personal surroundings, emotions, thoughts, and feelings of the body. Attentions are on one thing (and that one thing only) when being mindful, urging individuals to not dwell on the past, as it can inhibit the ability to accept or solve problems and lead to more stress. Training your mind to focus in the moment dulls worry and encourages people to accept circumstances as they are.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Approach for Seniors

While the majority of mindfulness-based programs are delivered over an eight-week period, MBCAS is presented over eight months. According to Mindfulness, “the main objectives of this program are to teach seniors to observe current experiences with nonjudgmental awareness, to identify automatic behaviors or reactions to current experiences that are potentially non-adaptive, and to enhance and reinforce positive coping with typical difficulties that they face in their daily lives.”

Why Is Mindfulness Important in Senior Populations?

Older populations and senior communities practicing mindfulness have shown to reap the following benefits:

Lessens Feelings of Loneliness

Seniors who feel lonely are at risk of poor mental and physical outcomes, including depression and malnutrition. While the causes of loneliness and isolation are multifactorial, a study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found implementing MBSR reduces loneliness in older adults.

Weakens Negative Feelings

Ongoing studies have shown the use of a mindfulness is a cost-effective intervention in reducing recurring major depression, including in the older population. Research also employs MBSR can improve overall emotional distress, along with reducing depression and anxiety.

Promotes Longevity

Mostly related to a reduction in stress, mindfulness may slow down the aging process and promote longevity. Telomeres are casings on the ends of DNA, protecting it against damage. Mindfulness and meditation may safeguard telomere damage, thus lowering the risk of premature aging and death, along with combatting against age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Reduces Blood Pressure

Following a mindfulness-based intervention program implemented in low-income African-American older adults, both diastolic and systolic blood pressures decreased.

Diminishes Chronic Back Pain

A pilot study published in Pain discovered an eight-week mindfulness-based meditation program is feasible for older adults with chronic lower back pain. Additionally, a qualitative study had older adults with chronic back pain write journal entries during a mindfulness meditation program, resulting to themes of pain reduction.

Improves Sleep

In the qualitative study described above, participants also wrote and described improved sleep latency and quality of sleep. Considering the risk of irregular sleeping patterns and Sundowner’s Syndrome in the elderly, mindfulness may be a viable means in regulating sleep cycles and improving mood and energy on a regular basis.

Enhances Quality of Life

Though overall health is still important, quality of life tends to take precedency as the primary, overarching goal in older adults. Participants who practice mindfulness regularly describe an improved overall well-being immediately during and after a meditation session, along with long-term outcomes on improved quality of life.

Benefits Caregivers

Equally as important, mindfulness benefits caregivers as well. Self-care and mindfulness can alleviate physical, emotional, and psychological stress caregivers experience, with MBSR showing to reduce depression and stress risk and boost overall mental health.

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