The scientific research behind the benefits of meditation is clear — a regular meditation practice can lessen depression and anxiety, reduce stress, increase immune function, decrease pain, and boost overall well-being. For seniors and caregivers, meditation is a natural way to complement healthcare treatments for a variety of illnesses, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease. Since meditation is something that can be practiced by yourself, within the comfort of your own home, it is ideal for incorporating into home care services.
Meditation is a set of simple techniques that leads to a state of heightened awareness and relaxation. This ancient practice is found in a variety of cultures all over the world. While meditation is often practiced in religious settings, it can also be practiced independently and without any religious affiliation. There are many different forms of meditation, but all involve a focus on breathing, stillness, and calming the mind.
5 Types of Meditation for Caregivers and Seniors
Home caregivers can easily incorporate meditation practices for seniors into their caregiving routines. The benefits of meditation can be experienced from just ten minutes of practice a day. Home caregivers can sit down with seniors in their care and discuss the types of meditation that will work best for each individual. The bonus of incorporating meditation into home care services is that caregivers can practice alongside their clients, gaining the benefits for themselves, too!
Laying the foundation… The first step with meditation is to find a quiet space and a comfortable position, either sitting up or laying down. The next step is to relax the breathing by taking three slow, deep breaths. This is the foundation. The rest depends on the type of meditation each person prefers. It’s also possible, and beneficial, to incorporate more than one type of meditation. These can either follow in succession, be practiced separately throughout the day, or be practiced on alternating days. A meditation practice is unique to every person and it is normal for it to take a little time to figure out which type of meditation works best. Experiment, calm your mind, and have fun!
1. Concentrative Meditation
In this modality, a person focuses all of their attention and concentration on a single object, thought, or sensation. This focus is meant to help a person tune out everything in their surroundings and create a state of calmness and relaxation. Common things to focus on are the breath, a candle, a distant sound, or a mantra. Each time the mind starts to wander, bring the focus back to the object of concentration. Caregivers can help seniors practice concentrative meditation by creating a quiet space and offering suggestions for things to focus on. Caregivers can also time the sessions so that seniors do not have to stress about how much time is passing.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
This type of meditation builds on the techniques of concentrative meditation. The difference is that the person enters the meditation with a particular question or thought in mind. Begin each session with the focus technique of concentrative meditation and then after 5-10 minutes, add in the question or problem that you want to solve or gain awareness about. Mindfulness meditation can be used to figure out the root cause of depression and anxiety, to help understand stress, to create awareness of the body, and to help manage certain ailments. Mindfulness creates a state of “being in the present” and often results in an increased sense of self-awareness.
3. Positive Affirmations
There is evidence to suggest that regularly reciting positive affirmations can train a person’s brain to think more positively. Caregivers can help seniors choose one or more positive affirmations that can be said out loud each day. The affirmations can be changed as often as desired to better suit current circumstances. Affirmations are best received when in a meditative state, because there are less distractions, making it easier for the affirmations to take root in the mind. Sit comfortably in a quiet place, focus on calm breathing, and then repeat the affirmations out loud 3-5 times. Caregivers can help seniors who have speech impairments by saying the affirmations out loud for them. Another way to practice this is for caregivers to repeat the affirmation each time it is said by the senior. For example, the affirmation “I am happy” would be followed by the caregiver saying “you are happy”. It can also be helpful to write the affirmations down on a piece of paper or in a journal.
4. Physical Meditation
There are several physical practices that can induce a state of meditation. The most popular of these are yoga and Tai Chi. Yoga combines breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures. Almost every yoga pose can be modified to account for the needs and abilities of each individual person. Some yoga poses that are particularly good for seniors include tree pose, warrior II, low lunge, and restorative poses. Many yoga centers have classes specifically for seniors, so caregivers can check to see if there are yoga for senior classes in their area.
A popular image of Tai Chi is a group of seniors performing this type of exercise in a park. There’s a reason that Tai Chi is so popular amongst the elderly. This Chinese form of martial arts consists of slow, low impact, gentle movements that are perfect for people with aging bodies or who are recovering from injuries. Benefits include improved balance and stability, increased muscle strength and tone, and improved hand and eye coordination. Tai Chi is best learned from an instructor, although there are instructional videos available. Like yoga, Tai Chi involves a lot of gentle stretching, and the movements can be modified if necessary. Tai Chi is also a great way for seniors to connect with with their community, as Tai Chi is often performed in group settings.
5. Gratitude Journal
Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness and the recognition that the source of this goodness often comes from outside of ourselves. Practicing gratitude is a way to remain humble and to create an environment in which you and those around you feel valued and appreciated. A way to incorporate gratitude into a meditation practice is through a gratitude journal. The first step is to get into a meditative state by following the foundation for meditation or by leading with a session of mindfulness meditation or concentrative meditation. The next step is for the person to write down 3-5 things they are grateful for and to take a moment to reflect on each of those things. Keeping a gratitude journal allows a person to read back through everything they are grateful for throughout the year.
There are also the added benefits of journaling itself, which include strengthening the immune system, reducing inflammation, and decreasing symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies show improved liver and lung function, as well. An improved immune system also has the direct benefits of less illness and faster healing. Caregivers can assist by helping seniors pick out a journal, offering prompts for things they might be grateful for, and writing down the gratitude affirmations if the seniors have physical ailments, such as arthritis, that prevent them from writing.
Meditation and Self-Care for Caregivers
The benefits of meditation for seniors also extend to caregivers. A regular meditation practice is a great form of self-care for home caregivers, and can be helpful in preventing things like compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout. For more support, caregivers can turn to resources provided by their home care agencies. Alegre Home Care, for instance, offers training programs and other services to help caregivers maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Got questions about home caregiving? Reach out to Alegre Home Care at one of our Northern California locations and we’d be happy to assist.