A new meta-analysis of 19 previous studies has found that mindfulness for depression is promising avenue of treatment for the elderly.
is a serious problem for many older people. Though antidepressants and therapy are effective treatments for many depressed adults, they do not work for everyone. For example, up to 20% of older adults stop using antidepressants because of the negative side effects.
And many regions, especially in the developing world, have a lack of trained medical professionals who can offer these treatments. Likewise, the treatments can be expensive.
Mindfulness exercises for depression: a viable alternative
That helps explain the growing interest in alternative treatments for depression. One popular example is “mindfulness meditation.” Mindfulness interventions are meant to teach people how to become more aware of what’s happening inside and outside of their minds, without judging those thoughts and feelings.
Such “MM” interventions have proven successful in treating depression, because they help reduce the tendency to ruminate about thoughts and emotions that make people feel down.
While effectiveness of MM been widely studied, one area that has received less attention is how effectively these interventions treat depression among the elderly.
Meta-analysis of mindfulness for depression
Addressing that gap in the literature explains why researchers at St Louis University recently conducted a meta-analysis of MMIs’ effectiveness in treating depression in this group. The journal Aging & Mental Health has just published the team’s findings.
The researchers scoured 15 databases for relevant studies published between 2008 and 2019. To be included, the studies had to be based on adults aged 65 and above, have a control group, and be written in English.
The research team wound up with 19 studies that included a total 1,076 participants, whose average was 72. The studies took place in the United States, Denmark, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Spain, Iran, and Thailand. On average they included about 67% female participants.
Significant reductions in depression
The researchers found that interventions focusing on meditation and mindfulness for depression symptoms “significantly improved depression” compared to controls. The overall effect size was 0.65.
The effects were strongest among participants from Asia, followed by Europeans. The North American participants showed the weakest effect, though it was still significant. This may be, the researchers say, because mindfulness has a 2,500-year history in Asia. By contrast, mindfulness has only been popular in the West for a few decades. “Therefore,” they write, “Asian older adults might be more familiar with mindfulness meditation than their European and North American counterparts.”
Interestingly, shorter treatments (four weeks or less) led to greater improvements than longer treatments. This is noteworthy, as eight weeks is the most common duration for mindfulness meditation.
Guided meditation yields best results
The interventions that were most successful at reducing depression included a “guided meditation” component. In guided meditation, trained specialists guide the participants, reminding them to take note of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. This is especially important with depressed participants, who might tend to ruminate, leading to a greater need for guided meditation.
The researchers conclude that mindfulness meditation is quite viable as a complement, or even an alternative, to conventional treatments for depressed older adults.
Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression
Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for depression among the elderly is another promising avenue of research. MBCT is a technique of attaining a meditative state by focusing on the present moment. As a form of psychotherapy, meditation can help a person learn to better understand his thoughts and actions and overcome the external and internal mental struggles that may be preventing them.
Mindfulness based cognitive therapy can also be seen as a type of cognitive therapy that focuses on how a person’s daily thoughts and feelings influence behavior. The treatment was developed in the 1990s and has been found to be effective in treating people with the most common form of depression, called major depressive disorder (MDD).
MBCT helps older people become more aware of how they use negative thoughts and stressful emotions to judge, regulate and manage their emotional responses. It has been found to be as effective as antidepressants in reducing symptoms of depression in older people.
Guided meditation for seniors
Another increasingly popular treatment option is guided meditation for seniors. Getting older, and caring for our bodies and minds, can pose a unique set of challenges.
For many seniors, guided meditation is a good way to stay balanced. Guided meditation is a form of meditation that combines a conscious practice with instructions given by a trained guide. Your brain gets to relax, while your thoughts still move fluidly.
Seniors, especially older ones, may already be interested in meditation. But many who start meditation report difficulties in achieving the desired results, with one survey finding that almost half of participants reported frustration. Most seniors quit in a few weeks, often because they consider too hard. This is because their brains are not used to focussing on one object for an extended period of time.
Guided meditation for seniors is a proven technique that makes it easier to achieve mindfulness and calm. It also trains you to use your brain and learn the art of concentration. Examples include going on a mindfulness walk, or relaxing in a peaceful setting. Doing so can not only help you reach a more peaceful state of mind, it may also help you avoid and manage stress.
How Guided Meditation for Seniors works
You sit quietly in a quiet, comfortable room with soft music playing. A soothing voice announces in a low voice that the meditation is about to begin.
Your mind then begins to wander. The voice gently tells you to take a moment to concentrate on the voice. When you do so, the voice encourages you to simply notice the voice, breathe and let your mind go blank.
The voice gets stronger, telling you to keep this up and relax. Your mind starts calming down. Just observe the voice, and breathe in and out as the instructions say, for a few minutes.
After the meditation, your mind will still be calm and you will likely experience a feeling of peace.
You can do this for 10 minutes or an hour, depending on how your mind is responding. Your experience is entirely subjective, and you can practice this anywhere at any time.
Example activities that can be done with seniors to enjoy mind-body connection
Meditation: a 10-minute guided meditation is a very good way to calm your mind. Here you can learn to be still. You may want to do this at the end of the day, or for 10 minutes before going to bed.
Mindfulness walk: do this in a peaceful setting. You can do the walk in the park, or even in your garden. If you live close to the beach, even better. Here you can just listen to the birds sing, and notice what is going on around you.
Relaxation practice: here you can simply sit and have a few minutes to stop and enjoy the calmness of the moment. You can watch the leaves in the trees, notice the light, and feel the coolness of the breeze. Or you can listen to your favorite music and just relax.
If you are wondering how to become a mindful meditator, this guided meditation is a good place to start. The most important thing is that you enjoy your experience, and that it helps you feel peaceful.
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Study: “Effects of mindfulness meditation interventions on depression in older adults: A meta-analysis“
Authors: Chuntana Reangsing, Tanapa Rittiwong, and Joanne Kraenzle Schneider
Published in: Aging & Mental Health
Publication date: July 15, 2020
Image: by Honey Kochphon Onshawee from Pixabay