A form of meditation that helps a person develop non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, mindfulness meditation was the primary technique used in a study recently undertaken by Dr. Paul Grossman, of the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, in the Division of Internal Medicine at the University of Basel Hospital.
Published in the 28 September issue of Neurology, Grossman and colleagues found that the patients who underwent the mindfulness training had improved mental and physical well-being after the course and also at a six-month follow up.
Comparisons were made of 150 patients presenting with relapsing-remitting or secondary progressive MS who were divided up to receive either standard medical care or undergo eight weeks of training in mindfulness meditation.
Seventy-four patients were assigned to standard care, and 76 were identified for the meditation techniques consisting of weekly classes of 2.5 hours, one all-day retreat and 40 minutes of personal meditation each day.
Overall, symptoms of depression decreased by 30%, and measures of fatigue and quality of life all showed improvement for those involved in the meditation technique. The control group receiving standard care showed a slight decline on most measures.
Only five percent of patients pulled out before training ended, and the greatest strides were made in patients presenting with the highest levels of depression and fatigue – equating to approximately 65% of the meditation group.
Findings held true for fatigue at the six-month follow-up showing no decline in improvement. In other areas, the benefits still existed, but some cases showed lower levels of improvement when compared to findings recorded immediately following the initial training.
Drs. Jinny Tavee and Lael Stone of the Cleveland Clinic suggested in an accompanying editorial that the study would need to compare the meditation group against another active group to be certain that the benefits accrued specifically as a result of mindfulness training.
They added that this study was the largest of its type, it was well conducted and “solidly designed”, and it focused on effective treatment at quality of life issues in MS patients.
Since fatigue, depression, anxiety and quality of life issues are common difficulties faced by patients with MS, Grossman said, “people with MS must often confront special challenges of life related to profession, financial security, recreational and social activities, and personal relationships, not to mention the direct fears associated with current or future physical symptoms and disability.”
He added that the treatments available to slow the progression of the disease provide minimal relief to these issues and “any complementary treatments that can quickly and directly improve quality of life are very welcome.”
“Mindfulness training can help those with MS better to cope with these changes,” said Grossman. “Increased mindfulness in daily life may also contribute to a more realistic sense of control, as well as a greater appreciation of positive experiences that continue be part of life.”
Authors suggested that the findings point to the potential benefits of mindfulness training with other chronic disorders.