Yoga Reduces Stress For Caregivers Of Those With Dementia

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Inhale. Exhale. Stretch. Repeat. These are just a few steps of yoga, a therapeutic workout that has gained in popularity over the years. Researchers recently found that a particular type of yoga that allows participants to practice brief meditation on a daily basis will help decrease stress for people who take care of patients with Alzheimer´s and dementia.

According to scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), participating in a specific type of chanting yogic meditation for a minimum of 12 minutes daily for eight weeks caused a decrease in the biological mechanism that manages an uptick in the body´s immune system´s inflammation response. If inflammation is continuously present, it can lead to a number of chronic health problems.

In the project, investigators from UCLA worked with 45 family dementia caregivers in an experiment that highlighted the benefits of Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM). Following meditation, 68 of the genes reacted differently and led to a decrease in inflammation. The results are highlighted in the current online edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

“We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression,” explained Dr. Helen Lavretsky, senior author and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, in a prepared statement. “On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50 percent. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.”

The researchers described caregivers as “unsung heroes” who took the burden of taking care of friends and family who suffered from Alzheimer´s and other types of dementia. In particular, the burden of taking care of someone with dementia can take a toll on people. As such, older adult caregivers generally show higher levels of stress and depression along with lower level of satisfaction and vigor. These same caregivers also tend to have a high level of biomarkers of inflammation and are at high risk for diseases related to stress. Furthermore, the number of caretakers for those with dementia will increase significantly as the population ages. Presently, there are around five million individuals in the U.S. who are caring for a patient with dementia.

While past studies have examined psychosocial interventions like meditation, there hasn´t always been a strong understanding as to the pathways psychosocial interventions take in influencing biological processes. The researchers wanted to look at how these interventions could decrease the number of adverse effects on caregivers. The participants were placed into two random groups. The mediation group learned how to do 12-minute yogic practice, including Kirtan Kriya, and completed these exercises at the same time over a period of eight weeks. The other group was placed in a quiet place to listen to instrumental and relaxation music for 12 minutes on a daily basis over eight weeks. The scientists took blood samples at the beginning and end of the study.

“The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune cell gene expression,” emphasized Lavretsky, who also directs UCLA’s Late-Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program, in the statement. “Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation.”

The researchers believe that the results are very positive and Lavretsky, in particular, has launched an Alzheimer´s and Dementia Care Program that includes coordinated care for patients and caregivers; the caregiver portion of the program includes yoga practice.

“This is encouraging news. Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful too,” concluded Lavretsky in the statement.

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