The practices of mindfulness and meditation are widely utilized by many individuals seeking to reduce symptoms of anxiety in their daily routines. For those diagnosed with dementia and their network of caregivers, this same practice can have many positive benefits. As research continues to develop, scientists have found multiple links between mindfulness, anxiety, and dementia.
Ken Paller, fellow of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University, shared that, “Mindfulness involves attentive awareness with acceptance for events in the present moment. You don’t have to be drawn into wishing things were different. Mindfulness training, in this way, takes advantage of people’s abilities rather than focusing on their difficulties.” That final statement is often the guiding principle behind providing support for dementia and should be leveraged in all caregiving approaches.
Below we’ll explore ten key benefits that mindfulness provides for both those living with dementia and their caregivers.
For Persons with Dementia
- Reduces Psychological Stress: In relaxing the mind through repetitive counting, deep breathing, or mediation, the body actively manages its own stress, calming potential anxiety attacks. It’s important to understand that while stress is not solely responsible for a diagnosis, it continues to be a risk factor for dementia and can heighten the severity of its effects.
- Centers the Body: When diagnosed with dementia, individuals may experience various levels of confusion or disorientation. Mindfulness practices can help center the body and bring an individual’s focus to the present. This, in turn, shifts the brain’s momentum back to a healthier state and hones in on what can be understood or controlled in the moment.
- A Self-Soothing Tool: Many of the principles behind mindfulness can become instinctive behaviors when practiced with frequency and consistency. Guided by caregivers and nurses’ support, individuals can learn to practice these principles with a certain degree of autonomy over time.
- Creates Better Sleeping Habits: When we’re less stressed, we sleep better. For those with dementia, sundowning often affects their sleep patterns as well. In practicing mindfulness, individuals living with anxiety and dementia can keep stress at manageable levels to encourage healthier sleep at night.
- Improves General Quality of Life: In addition to helping reduce anxiety, these practices will support overall wellness by improving general awareness of surroundings, thus providing someone with a greater sense of control and reducing the risk of depressive or intrusive thoughts.
For Primary and Family Caregivers
- Maintains the Right Focus: In practicing mindfulness, caregivers will be able to approach their role with an increased focus on the present moment, coupled with a non-judgemental awareness of their personal situation and the situation for the person they are supporting.
- A De-Escalation Strategy: In combating unpredictable behavior (aggression and anger is a common Alzheimer’s symptom), mindfulness practices can offer a method of connection and support for the caregiver and their loved one. This can be an effective tool to add to the traditional means of communication or de-escalation.
- Personal Coping: It’s important to discuss the emotional and physical tolls placed on dementia caregivers. In many instances, some begin to feel an overwhelming sense of grief as they cope with what feels like the loss of a person they care about. Mindfulness can help to calm these emotions and cognitively process the realities of a specific situation.
- Encouraging Empathy: The best care is rooted in a strong emotional understanding of the individual affected by dementia. Mindfulness helps you gain a stronger connection to yourself to allow a better, more empathetic understanding of others.
- Provides Better Care: When we’re at our very best, we can provide better care to those in need. As caregivers put an emphasis on their personal life with mindfulness and patience, they’re able to better provide that to those they support.
Combat Anxiety and Dementia With a Mindfulness Practice
If you care for a loved one with dementia, it’s likely both of your stress levels will increase as you navigate challenging situations—it’s why anxiety and dementia go hand-in-hand. A regular mindfulness practice will help you overcome stress and lead to better overall health and wellness.
To get started on your mindfulness practice, check out some of our resources and guides: