I have written often of the benefits of meditation, particularly when combined with music as a guided meditation experience. Now there is increasing evidence from mainstream medical research of what has been understood for thousands of years by wise teachers of many traditions: meditation is great for people!
The truly excellent thing about meditation is that anyone can do it, pretty much anywhere. It is easy, free (or very inexpensive if you choose to buy CDs or download guided versions), is proven as effective as pharmaceutical aids in reducing depression and stress, and has no side effects other than an increased sense of well-being and peacefulness. Click here to see the research done at Johns Hopkins investigating meditation as anti-depressant. What's not to love about that? The Mayo Clinic also published a newsletter article titled "Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress" which gives an great overview of the subject .
Various forms of meditation have been taught, mostly in eastern cultures, and the practice has been growing by leaps and bounds in the west over the past thirty years or so. There have been a number of pioneeers in bringing the practice of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) to the west, including Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His clinic was featured on the public television series Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers in 1993. Meditation has such incredible benefits that I believe everyone can find some help by practicing it. In my own experience as a caregiver, meditation and music, combined with fervent and frequent prayer, saved my sanity when it was hanging by a thread. I find it compelling that the list of benefits meditation offers so exactly corresponds to symptoms many (or most) caregivers experience. The only mystery to me is why more caregivers don't use this incredible tool for balance and strength. Which is why I am making it my mission to get this information out to those who need it through this website & blog, by writing, speaking, teaching, and otherwise promoting it. How often is there a perfect solution to so many of our everyday stresses just waiting for us to sit down and get quiet long enough to find its gifts?
If you'd like to explore the ideas and resources for meditation, please visit my Meditation and Music page on this site and also take a look at the ideas for Self-care and Caregiver Resource Store. I will also be publishing a book which further details resources and tools for caregivers: Sanity Savers for Caregivers at the End of Their Rope. You can add your name for an announcement of publication, which is targeted for March 2014. If you would like to read a chapter from the book about the uses of music and meditation, click here. I encourage you to explore the idea of various forms of meditation and find what appeals to you personally. In my 17 years of caregiving, music and meditation were the brightest jewels in the caregiver crown. Try it out. You have nothing to lose and so very much to gain!
"If you would lift me up, you must be on higher ground."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love."
I was just reading in the Alzheimer's Reading Room of a study done jointly by Johns Hopkins and the Utah State University on the topic of whether a close caregiver relationship slows the progression of Alzheimer's Disease. From personal experience as a daughter and long term caregiver for my mother, my resounding answer is YES! Emphatically, absolutely, positively YES! The answer they arrived at in the study was also yes, but it wasn't quite as emphatic as mine. I guess when you are measuring with the heart and intuition, it may be clearer than with scientific instruments. Through my own direct observations and those of medical professionals and Alzheimer's support experts, it was often noted how unusually gradual my mother's decline was over a period of 17 years. She actually set a record for length of attendance at the day care facility, and was their "poster child" for optimal functioning with the disease. I am fully and gratefully aware that a large part of the credit for my mother's gentle, slow progression had to do with the excellence of the whole team participating in her care. However, I remain convinced that the life-long closeness (well, with the notable exception of the hormone hell of my teenage years, when one of us would have had to be approaching sainthood in order to have a peaceful, loving, untroubled relationship!) of our mother-daughter relationship and daily expressions of love and caring also dramatically helped.
The study, conducted by Constantine Lyketsos, M.D., M.H.S., the Elizabeth Plank Althouse Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease Research and director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center and colleagues from Utah State, University of Washington, Duke University and Boston University examined 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients. The pairs were recruited from the Cache County (Utah) Dementia Progression Study, which has tracked hundreds of people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia since 1994.
The monitoring assessments were done using the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) and Clinical Dementia Rating, with the tests given at six-month intervals, for a period of four years beginning in 2002. The caregivers were interviewed and questioned about their perception of the closeness of the relationship to the Alzheimer's patient -- not surprisingly, the caregivers who described a close relationship had partners with significantly slower measurable decline than those who did not have close relationships.
Love energy is some of the most potent, powerful and postive energy in our human experience and volumes have been written to honor both the bond between mother and child and the love between husband and wife. I would also add the special, unconditional love of a pet to the equation (usually a dog, sometimes a cat) which adds tremendously to the quality of life and perhaps to a slowing of disease, including Alzheimer's. If you want to get metaphysical about it, love is a high frequency of vibrational energy, and can lift a person out of disease, which is a lower vibrational frequency. So, in my admittedly unscientific conclusion, I believe that love can lift us up to higher ground, working its miracles healing human hearts and minds through its magic. I have all the proof I need in my own life experience. Maybe one day, the science will catch up :)
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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