Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). In slightly simpler terms, mindfulness is “the ability to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions—in the present moment—without judging or criticising yourself or your experience.” (McKay, Wood & Brantley, 2007).
Often elderly people can live uncomfortable, lonely, quiet lives. Teaching them to pay attention moment by moment, on purpose but without judgement, to each of their experiences, can improve of the quality of their lives, based on the demonstrated effectiveness of mindfulness techniques in many forms of therapy
Mindfulness practice has a definite positive impact on issues such as recurrent depression, stress, anxiety, chronic physical pain and loneliness. For the elderly, chronic health conditions, the loss of self-determination in their daily lives, isolation, and a lack of interaction with the outside world can understandably take much of the joy out of life.
For elderly people, loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems-such aselderly meditation cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. Mindfulness meditation training can be used as a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the risk of disease. Research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults………so why not give it a try?
And let’s not forget our care-givers and practising mindful self-care for them. Many carers experience isolation and high levels of stress as a result of their caring responsibilities. Isolation is one of the prime factors in depression. Stress can also impact directly on both the physical and mental well-being of carers. Carers can become overwhelmed trying to balance work, family and care giving demands, often resulting in the neglect of their own well-being.
For carers, practising mindfulness works in equipping them with skills to use during their caring responsibilities which can lead to a wonderful partnership between both the person being cared for and the carer themselves helping them both foster relaxation, support and friendship.
So how can we introduce or reinforce the techniques of mindfulness with the elderly and those caring for them?
Here are some quick exercises to cultivate mindfulness in your life and support mindfulness practice in the life of a loved one such as a parent or grandparent.
Deep Breathing: As we age, our respiratory system can begin to break down. As our lives become more sedentary, we don’t use our lungs as much to expand and contract and the muscles that support our diaphragm get weaker. Deep breathing is critical for the elderly to keep their muscles strong, their lungs elastic and to keep things moving through their respiratory system. Try this for 3 minute each day and see how that feels. Just notice your breathing. Just notice that you are breathing in and out. Notice the in-breath and the out-breath. When thoughts come into your mind just return to your breathing. Do not get involved with them. Simply go back to noticing your breathing in and out.
Meditation: As we age, our focus shifts. We can start to worry about our death, illness, leaving our family and our finances. This can create tremendous anxiety. There is no better time to start or continue with a meditation practice. This can be done sitting in a chair, closing the eyes and simply bringing the attention to the breath. Incorporating meditation into every day can help you release theses anxieties.
Seated stretches: Yoga for anyone with limited mobility can be modified so that the person is seated in a chair. Moving the arms up and stretching towards the ceiling, placing hands on the sides and twisting from side to side and squeezing and releasing the hands are all simple movements that can relieve muscle tension and soothe stiff joints.
Being in the learning mode: Mindfulness comes from increasing your focus on one thing. This can be experienced in more than just meditation and yoga; you’ll find its part of simply learning something new. When we try new things, we feel alive, engaged and energised. These are all mindful qualities. For older people who have never tried yoga or meditation, an introduction to these techniques can reinforce to the elderly that learning always happens, regardless of age. It helps to create mindfulness triggers. Pick some everyday things that you do routinely. Decide that whenever you do them you will be mindful and will be aware that you are doing them. Examples are: using the telephone, going up or down stairs or steps, arranging your desk or other workspace, tidying, washing up, taking a shower.
Connection: Often, as people age, they lose control over different aspects of their lives. They may move into a nursing home. They may be on many medications. They may have to use a cane, walker or supplemental oxygen. They may feel like their body is not their own. Mindful techniques can help older adults feel a sense of connection to their body. This can be critical for creating optimal health, even as they manage the ongoing changes in their body.
So finally from me, one message I would like to give to you at this present moment is that life is most certainly a gift… so mind yourself, enjoy each moment and take your time unwrapping it.