View CBS News August 27, 2014
By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe
Alzheimer's disease takes a psychological and physical toll not only on the affected
patients, but also on their caregivers. Now, a new study has shown that training in
mindfulness -- learning how to focus on the present moment -- may help improve the
emotional well-being of people with early-stage dementia due to Alzheimer's and their
Both patients and their caregivers in the study who had attended an eight-week
mindfulness training program showed improvement in depression scores and sleep
quality, as well as their overall quality of life.
Previous research has shown that people who look after family members suffering from
neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's may be particularly vulnerable to anxiety,
depression, immune dysfunction and other health concerns.
"We saw lower depression scores and improved ratings on sleep quality and quality of
life for both groups," study author Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern
University and fellow of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement. "After eight
sessions of this training we observed a positive difference in their lives."
"Mindfulness involves attentive awareness with acceptance for events in the present
moment," Paller said. "You don't have to be drawn into wishing things were different.
Mindfulness training in this way takes advantage of people's abilities rather than
focusing on their difficulties."
In the study, researchers examined 37 people, including 29 people who were involved
in a patient-caregiver relationship. Most of the patients in the study had been diagnosed
with dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment, or memory loss
due to multiple strokes. The caregivers in the study included patients' spouses, adult
children and other relatives.
Despite the patients' mild-to-severe memory loss, they were able to participate in the
mindfulness training and experience emotion and positive feelings, according to the
study co-author Sandra Weintraub, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at
Northwestern and a neuropsychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
One of the benefits of mindfulness training is that it helps both the patient and the
caregiver accept new ways of communicating, the researchers said.
"One of the major difficulties that individuals with dementia and their family members
encounter is that there is a need for new ways of communicating due to the memory loss and other changes in thinking and abilities," Weintraub said in a statement. "The
practice of mindfulness places both participants in the present and focuses on positive
features of the interaction, allowing for a type of connection that may substitute for the
more complex ways of communicating in the past."
"It is a good way to address stress," she added.
The new study was published August 25 in the American Journal of Alzheimer's
Disease and Other Dementias.
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