Mindfulness and the Elderly
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Although not a focus of early mindfulness-based therapies, the elderly are a prime target for mindfulness-based interventions for many reasons; nine are mentioned here.
As people age, their system increasingly wears down, even if they are in reasonably good health. This “wearing down” almost inevitably leads to physical health problems and, in many cases, to psychological issues. Typical questions and problems are heart disease, asthma, depression, and anxiety (Smith, 2004).
For many older people, loneliness becomes an increasing problem as loved ones pass on, and children move away to live their own lives.
Since family physicians typically rely on medication to treat physical and mental illness, the elderly often experience side-affects like drowsiness and subjective imbalance. For many, dependence on drugs develops. As a consequence, some older people may prefer non-pharmacological treatments.
Unlike younger people of working age, older people tend to be retired and generally have more time for daily mindfulness practice (Smith 2004).
As people age, they tend to become more reflective and questioning about their life. As they review their life and it’s meaning, they may become depressed, suffer from anxiety, or adopt an “I don’t care anymore” attitude. The emphasis during mindfulness practice on paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally (KabatZinn 1994, p. 4) may ease these conditions (Smith 2006).
Many older adults find themselves in nursing homes or in stay-at-home situations where they have little involvement in decision-making. They are told what to do and when to do it. As a result, they become disengaged in what goes on around them. This is especially true if they were actively involved in decision-making when they were a parent or working. Mindfulness training, by contrast, is empowering. It concentrates on abilities rather than worries.
Increasing numbers of scientific studies suggest or prove that mindfulness-based therapies can ease many of the physical and psychological issues the elderly experience. These benefits should no longer be ignored.
Mindfulness practices can be taught in Senior Communities, where many older people are concentrated (Lindberg 2005).
There are more older people alive than ever before, and their numbers are increasing. For example, in the USA the proportion of people over 65 increased by 18% between 2000 and 2011 and grew from 5.8% to 17.2% between 1990 and 2011 in Switzerland (Administration on Aging 2012; Swiss Federal Statistical Office 2013).