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Mindfulness Training Helps Alzheimer’s Patients and Caregivers

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 
caregivers. 
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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