What if mindfulness, the centering practice of nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, were taught to individuals suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers?
It sounds counterintuitive — practicing mindfulness while the mind itself is unraveling. But a study at Northwestern University was the first of its kind to show that mindfulness has benefits for both the Alzheimer’s patient and the caregiver.
“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,” study co-author and neuropsychologist Sandra Weintraub said. (1)
Thirty-seven participants in the study, including 29 who were part of patient-caregiver pairs, were trained in mindfulness techniques. Most of the patients were diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment.
While most participants who had Alzheimer’s disease already showed symptoms of mild to severe memory impairment, they were able to participate in the mindfulness practices. (2)
Participants showed several benefits of mindfulness training, including self-reported increased quality of life, fewer symptoms of depression, and better sleep.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, whether you are in the early stages of shock and grief, or are further along into loss and caregiving, I urge you, even if you buy no other other book, to go online now and order “Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows,” by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle.
Subtitled “A Couple's Journey Through Alzheimer’s,” the book is a memoir of Alzheimer’s diagnosis and caregiving recounted by Hoblitzelle. Her husband, Hob, was a professor and Buddhist teacher diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 72.
The couple approached the diagnosis and decline with love, gentleness, non-judgmental observation and acceptance — as much as they were able.