Managing moods and emotions are tough for all of us, but especially as one ages. There are not only possible physiological changes occurring that can impact seniors’ moods, but also potential loss of independence, spouses, close friends, pets, etc. With all these components, it comes as no surprise that seniors become lonely and depressed. However, seniors can benefit from the practice of mindfulness to counteract some of the emotional aspects that come along with aging.
We hear the word mindfulness quite a bit these days. But what does that word even really mean? Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
According to a study done by UCLA, researchers found that a simple mindful meditation program, lasting just 8 weeks, reduced loneliness in older adults. Loneliness is associated with an increase in the activity of inflammation-related genes that can promote a variety of diseases. Researchers examined gene expression and found that this same form of meditation significantly reduced expression of inflammatory genes. Research has revealed that those who participated in an 8 week meditation regimen, had structural changes to their brain, such as an increase in the density of the hippocampus – the part of the brain connected to memory and learning. This means that they found improvement in their ability to store new and old memories.
Mindfulness is effective in the reduction of rumination and worry. It helps to focus the mind on the present rather than worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. This is something that seniors especially struggle with, as they have a lot more time on their hands.
Now the challenge is how do we have our older loved ones practice mindfulness, when it all still sounds a bit elusive and probably fairly foreign to them? The key is to slowly incorporate it in subtle ways and approach it in a less intimidating manner. Perhaps engage in the mindfulness exercises along with your loved one. It is of course something all of us could benefit from, especially if you are a caregiver for your loved one, as caregiving can be incredibly challenging. Check out our blog post on the 7 Caregiver Burnout Strategies.
The following are examples of mindfulness exercises:
1.) Mindfulness Meditation
The beauty of mindfulness meditation is your loved can do it all from sitting in their chair. So it’s perfect for those who may have mobility issues. YouTube is a great resource for a variety of guided imagery and/ or guided meditations, along with different applications on your phone or computer. The goal with meditation is not to strive to be perfect at it, since your mind will always wander. The goal is to carve out time to simply “be” and to check-in with yourself.
2.) Deep Breathing
Have your loved one find a relaxing comfortable position seated and have them begin to take deep diaphragmatic breaths. An example would be to start with some exaggerated breaths – a deep inhale through your nose for 3 seconds and a deep exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. There are a lot of resources online of different ways to practice deep breathing. This can be incorporated into the meditations and not necessarily done separately.
3.) Raisin Exercise
With this exercise you really can use any sort of food item. But the goal is for you loved one to focus on one single object, bringing their mind to the present. So you could be the facilitator, as you ask your loved one to pay attention to the way the raisin looks, how it feels, how their skin responds to its manipulation, as well as how it smells and tastes. There are also examples of how to do this exercise online.
4.) Mindful Seeing
Have your loved one observe nature through a window with some kind of a view. Again, the idea is having their mind focus on the present – paying attention to the grass, leaves, breeze, colors, shapes etc. They are only to be an observer, not judging or being critical of what they see.
5.) Mindful Movement
There are a variety of gentle stretching exercises that can be done all from a chair. But before doing any movements or stretches, please consult with your loved one’s doctor to ensure it is safe to do.
6.) Listen to Peaceful/Relaxing Music
This can be something that is in the background during any of the above exercises. Let your loved one make the selection, picking something that resonates with them. This way they are involved in the process.
The important thing to keep in mind when trying any of the above exercises is that with any exercise, it will take some time and practice before seeing any benefits. Choose one or two that works best for you and your loved one to try. There are many senior centers, as well as long term care facilities,that are offering mindful meditations and exercises. I would recommend asking the coordinator about it.
As we head into the New Year, it’s the perfect time to begin to integrate mindfulness into our daily lives, along with showing our aging loved ones how to as well. It may just bring us one step closer to truly embracing what’s right in front of us, the present, as we never get those moments back.