How did I become interested in meditation for older adults? When I recently faced how my grandfather turned into a baby after he had a heart attack at the age of 86, I started looking for solutions of how to ease his burden of pain and anxiety and make his mind lighter and the last years of his life happier.
My grandfather has been through many systems and changes of ideas in his life. Born in 1930, he faced a big hunger in the first two years of his life, and later poverty and war, having to work in mines, and becoming a government official and a college teacher, working for a newspaper, smoking since the age of 5 till 75, taking care of the family and having a lot of stress because of all of these activities. Could his life have been easier? Is it possible to maintain clarity in your mind at the age of 86?
Many of these questions have been answered by the articles I read, and as I myself have noticed benefits of meditation, I wanted to use this very simple and affordable remedy to make the members of my family feel better.
It turns out meditation can be helpful both for an older person to balance out his/her life and for the caretaker to reduce the stress of giving care and time to his/her family member.
How can meditation be of use for an older adult?
Better sleep quality. Meditation helps calm down the mind and the body and helps with insomnia and other sleeping disorders, which are especially widespread in population over 55 years old. An UCLA research has studied two groups of older adults. One group was told about changing sleep habits, adjusting environment and sleeping hours, and the second group was taught mindfulness meditation. The results have shown a greater improvement in sleep patterns of the group that practiced meditation rather than the ones who were merely taught sleep hygiene.
Reduced loneliness. One more UCLA study has proved that meditation helps older people deal with loneliness. A simple 8-week mindfulness program reduced the self-reported loneliness of those who took part in the research. Not only did it reduce the emotional feeling of loneliness but also the amount of inflamed cells in the blood (CRP levels), which are normally markers of morbidity and mortality, and create a higher chance of getting ill.
Reduced stress and depression. Depression is not a normal part of aging even though many of us may think differently. Depression can be caused by the accumulation of stress throughout the years with no resources to ease the stress. It may be a cause of many serious illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc. When we meditate, the prefrontal cortex “feel good” part of our brain is activated, and the brain lowers production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which affects both physical and mental well-being in a positive way.
Positive thinking. Meditation gives spaces to facing our fears and one of the biggest fears of older adults is life-end anxiety. Being able to accept this nature of things and not avoid it (which only causes accumulating stress and anxiety), helps people accept the unavoidable and appreciate the present moment. The increased production of serotonin, the happiness hormone, helps feel content and happy with this moment.
Being energetic and active. As meditation slows down metabolism, it automatically decreases oxygen consumption and respiratory rate, as a result we consume less energy and go towards deeper levels of relaxation. Relaxation helps the body and mind rest in order to refill energy levels, boosts self-confidence which allows older adults to continue being in charge of their lives.
Pain management. Most of the time the pain we face is increased by how we react to it. Have you ever felt stress only by predicting pain before you actually feel it? What happens is, when we experience pain, because of our emotions and почуття приреченості this pain can double, triple or become ten times bigger. If we are in the moment and accept the pain we face, in most cases it becomes bearable, and may even lead to the appreciation of life. In Ukraine, we say, “I am in pain, therefore I am alive”.
Improved memory, focus and creativity. One of the biggest problems we face with aging is losing memory and misplacing details. As meditation is the practice of concentration and focus, it helps us retain memory and clarity of mind. Meditation helps bring out the creativity in us, and creating brings the joy of existence.
Caregiver burden. When we grow older, our loved ones take care of us, and once they have to do a lot for themselves and the members of their family, they get stressed, at times annoyed and often experience a burnout. It doesn’t matter if you are a medical worker, or a family member taking care of someone, if you meditate, this will give you space to breathe and relax and will improve the relationship between you and the person you care for.