Apr 2019: Mindfulness for seniors: how and why it works

Health

Words like mindfulness and meditation are now used so often under the banner of wellbeing that their meaning is becoming harder to pin down.

But meditation was first recorded in early Hindu writing from 1500 BCE. For centuries, it’s been a vital part of Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist tradition. In other words, it’s far from a fad.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Both use breathing as a tool – steady, deep breathing as a calming practice to establish a good state of mind.

It’s a relaxing process, but it can actively benefit both mental and physical health – whatever your age.

For care home residents, there’s lots to be gained from a little mindfulness.

Here’s how it works.

What does it do?

The Mental Health Foundation cites evidence that shows mindfulness can help with recurrent depression, anxiety, addictive tendencies and even chronic pain. It’s often combined with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to prevent a relapse of depression.

Effectively, mindfulness improves mental resilience in the same way that exercising a muscle strengthens it over time. Those who practice mindfulness report that it gives them more insight into their emotions, and therefore a better understanding of how to approach their own mental health.

It can boost concentration, and partly through developing the practice of mindful breathing, can reduce stress.

How does that affect health?

Recurrent stress is common in older adults, who may be coping with illness, grief, or just coming to terms with ageing.

It’s important to say that meditation doesn’t silence worries. But it can – when done properly – be an effective way for people to address their concerns and calm the physical feelings of stress that arise.

And in the long run, that can be a hugely beneficial tool for better mental health.

Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that meditative practice could slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s. Dementia disrupts cognitive functions – but it is not an inevitable part of ageing, as the National Institute on Aging points out.

Additionally, mindfulness stimulates the memory centres in the brain, likely helping to maintain memory function in later life.

And alongside its benefits for mental health, practicing mindfulness also appears to improve digestion – again, through its use of breathing as a tool, which improves circulation and increases the level of oxygen in the blood.

How to start

If you’d like to improve your mindfulness – or encourage others to do so – the first thing to remember is to start slowly.

Be aware of your breathing, which will be the foundation of any meditative practice.

Breathe in and out normally, and notice the time you take to inhale and exhale. Focus on the feeling of your lungs expanding: spend the time being aware of what it feels like to breathe deeply.

Micro-mindfulness is about giving your full attention to tiny moments, helping to calm your mind. Even stirring a cup of tea can be an opportunity for mindfulness.

You don’t need to spend hours trying to meditate: to begin with, you could try for just a couple of minutes. The most important thing to remember is to keep your mind focused on your own body and breathing. It’ll naturally wander, but gently bring your thoughts back to your breath whenever you feel them meandering away.

Mindfulness can improve mental and physical health – plus, reduced mobility isn’t an issue. As such, it can be a great addition to a care home resident’s daily routine.

Click here for more advice on what’s involved with beginning to practice mindfulness.