As the population ages, more friends and family members are assuming the role of caregiver. Unfortunately, caregiving may result in stress that can be harmful to the people delivering the compassionate care.
A new pilot study, however, finds that participation in a Transcendental Meditation program may significantly improve the psychological health of this highly stressed population.
The issue of improving resiliency among caregivers is a pressing concern as it is estimated that more than 20 percent of the U.S. population has served as an unpaid non-professional family caregiver. And millions of caregivers suffer from impaired immune function, heart disease, and other factors resulting in a higher mortality rate.
A recent study involving 23 caregivers, most of whom were taking care of a family member with Alzheimer’s or other chronic medical conditions, found that over a two-month period practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique helped to reduce the stress associated with caregiving.
The study, published in the International Archives of Nursing and Health Care journal, found improvements in perceived stress, spiritual well-being, and mood. In addition, qualitative evaluation of participants suggested improvements in energy level, feeling of calmness and resilience, and reduced anxiety and other psychosocial stress.
Research outcomes were determined by the use of standardized scales and measurement tools. Investigators assessed the benefits of the technique for the following scales: Perceived Stress, Total Mood, Spiritual Well-being, Stress, and Perceived Physical Health.
“The vast majority of caregivers today are family members and nonprofessionals,” said Dr. Sanford Nidich, lead author of the study and professor of education at Maharishi University of Management.
“Based on prior research studies, it appeared that the Transcendental Meditation program may improve the psychological health of this highly stressed population.
Our research found significant and meaningful reductions in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and perceived stress, and an increase in spiritual well-being — meaningfulness in life and faith in the future.”
Investigators discovered caregivers need to take better care of themselves.
Surveys show that over 90 percent of caregivers are family or unpaid professionals caring for family members or relatives.
Not only are these caregivers not trained for providing this service, they also aren’t aware of the importance of also taking care of their own well-being. They can quickly become overwhelmed by the situation, and often become less patient and irritable.
“Family and professional caregivers experience a tremendous amount of psychological and physical stress that impacts their physical health and quality of life,” said Dr. Charles Elder, a physician and researcher at Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, Oregon.
“It is very important that they learn how to take care of themselves for the sake of their own personal health and happiness. This pilot study shows that Transcendental Meditation can be a value-added support that caregivers are looking for and need.”
The participants in the study were satisfied overall with their practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique and its benefits, including less psychological distress. One noted how it helped her be more calm and kind.
“I started the Transcendental Meditation technique two years ago… the timing was perfect,” said one participant who was caring for her 93-year-old mother with late-stage Alzheimer’s. “I found it pretty easy and it made a lot of difference to me. I just felt calmer, I was much kinder to my mother, I didn’t get as frustrated with her….”
She went on to say that Transcendental Meditation helped her feel more balanced.
“It’s so hard when they can’t do anything. They are like children and it is so frustrating because… after a while you hit times where you just want to yell at them and it was so hard not to…. Then [through TM practice] I found that I didn’t get like that as often. I found that I was more equalized, more balanced about it all. It was a very helpful tool.”
Another participant experienced so much anxiety taking care of her husband who had suffered strokes and an automobile accident that she went to the emergency room three times.
“I was a caregiver; it was heavy duty… I ended up in the emergency room three times and each time it was diagnosed as anxiety…. They were panic attacks that were so much like heart attacks. I know that it was due to the stress of my caregiving role. I worried about him constantly. I was always afraid of what would happen to him.
“TM helped me by just calming my thoughts… [It] calmed me down and I could get through the day much easier. Since I have been doing TM I haven’t had one anxiety attack… [T]his was the biggest benefit. I noticed less anxiety straight away.”