How Mindfulness Can Benefit Senior Citizens
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Improved longevity. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that there is evidence that elderly practitioners of mindfulness meditation and its cousin, transcendental meditation, experienced improved longevity (Alexander et al. 1989). Meditation may improve longevity by preventing cellular aging, a possibility highlighted in a National Institute of Health study.
Decreased loneliness. A UCLA study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (Cresswell et al. 2012) found that seniors who engaged in a simple eight-week meditation program significantly decreased their rate of self-reported loneliness. Since isolation is a critical problem among seniors, this is a promising avenue of research. Also, since gene inflammation has been linked to feelings of loneliness, meditation may inhibit its occurrence. In the UCLA-based study, 40 adults were divided into two groups of 20 each. One group of 20 attended an 8-weekly 2-hour meeting to learn the techniques of mindfulness, including awareness and breathing techniques. They also practiced mindfulness meditation at home for 30 minutes a day and attended a one-day retreat.
Slowing of Alzheimer’s disease. A double-blind study performed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center indicates that meditation and breathing exercises may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s (Lawman 2013). Researchers believe that this may work by protecting the brain against anxiety and stress, which can worsen Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Reduced health costs. A study in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality reported that seniors who practiced meditation had significantly fewer hospitalizations. According to the study, the meditation group’s five-year cumulative reduction in payments to physicians was 70% less than the non-meditating control group.
Improved mood and sense of meaning in life. A study in Thailand in which seniors engaged in walking meditation had significantly better outcomes than seniors who participated in a walking-only program. Walking meditation was effective in reducing depression, and improving functional fitness and vascular reactivity (Prakhinkit et al. 2014; also see Krause, 2009, Clark et al. 2012, and Toneatto et al. 2007). Lifestyle changes can too dramatically slow age-related declines (Hendricks and Hatch, 2009).
Improved sleep. A study in the February 16, 2015, issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that participation in a mindfulness program leads to improved sleep (Black et al. 2015). The elderly involved in the study concluded that this was a better alternative than sleep drugs, which can have side effects, including daytime sleepiness and the risk of developing drug dependency.
Lower treatment costs. Mindfulness training involves much less cost than psychotherapy sessions and a bag full of drugs.
No harmful side effects. Compared to most drug-reliant treatments, participation in mindfulness-based interventions result in no harmful effects, with the exception of a small number of individuals who find that examining their thoughts produces stress.
Improved health. Participation in a regular meditation program can fix or improve many health problems, including chronic pain, psoriasis, cancer, inflammation, insomnia, infections, and depression (Kabat-Zinn 1982, 1998; Speca et al. 2000; Teasdale et al. 2000; Segal et al. 2002; Morone, Greco et al. 2008; Morone, Lynch, et al. 2008; Morone et al. 2009; Splevins et al. 2009; Sun et al. 2003; Smith et al. 2007; McBee 2003; Young and Baime 2010). Perhaps as significant as these results are is the positive impact that mindfulness practices have on the elderly’s caregivers. Increasing attention is being paid to the stresses and strains that caregivers undergo while caring for the elderly, especially those elderly with physical and mental health problems (McBee 2003, 2008; Epstein-Lubow et al. 2011).