This is a guest post written by Harry Cline
Aging and Senior Caregivers
As we age, our bodies go through many changes. Cells become larger and less able to multiply through the years, making it more difficult to repair and renew tissue. Much of the tissue loses mass, a process known as atrophy. Waste has an easier time building up in tissue, connective tissues become stiffer, and our organs have a harder time functioning compared to our more youthful days. For many seniors, it’s helpful to have a caregiver around to help them function in their day-to-day lives. Senior caregivers are particularly important for the millions of seniors living with dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a condition characterized by a marked decline in cognitive performance, usually spurred by age. There are various types of dementia, but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease. Patients can have one type of dementia or overlapping forms of the neurocognitive disorder. Dementia disorders affect the person’s nerve cells and often impact their ability to remember, reason and make judgments. Because of this, it makes it dangerous -- irresponsible, even -- to let a senior living with dementia live on their own.
Yoga, Meditation, and Dementia Care
As you may imagine, living with dementia as well as caring for a dementia patient are not easy things to do. However, a study published in 2014 found that a holistic program that included yoga and meditation helped ease the burdens brought on by dementia. The study found that yoga and meditation were perfect activities for patients and caregivers to do together. Furthermore, they provide a much-needed opportunity for caregivers to get some exercise and relax without having to worry about their patients. The exercise also is good for the dementia patients. While most people think seniors with dementia won’t be active, the researchers found this to be untrue.
Yoga and meditation provide strong feelings of well-being that are beneficial for dementia patients and caregivers alike. The practices help people improve their state of mindfulness throughout the day, which can make difficult situations easier to bear. The classes were also accompanied by music, which can help stimulate the imagination and improve memory for those with dementia.
Furthermore, yoga and meditation are considered “brain exercises” that lower the risk of developing dementia in younger people while preventing further cognitive decline in those already experiencing symptoms. Both help reduce stress and anxiety in patients and caregivers. Those participating feel happier and more at peace, which can make the days easier to get through. The feelings of peace and well-being achieved through the practices are so powerful, addiction recovery programs often use yoga and meditation as ways to facilitate sobriety.
You don’t have to join a yoga studio or hire a shaman to help you with these practices. They can be done in the comfort of your own home, but you should consider setting aside a designated space for doing them. Find an area that has natural sunlight, minimal clutter, and enough space for both the senior and caregiver to stretch a bit. If possible, add a couple of pieces of calming decor, such as naturescapes or potted plants. This space can be used for both meditation and yoga, and if you’re just starting out, you can follow along with a guided practice to ease you in.
Yoga Exercises for Dementia Patients and Caregivers
Pranayama techniques encourage focus and mindfulness through the control of breath. Breathing is the foundation of all yoga poses and exercises. These exercises are great for creating a sense of calm and relaxation.
Asanas are physical exercises that are used to improve strength, flexibility, balance and confidence. The poses are often inspired by things found in nature. Yoga instructs people to listen to the body and not push it past the point of comfort, which is helpful for seniors with limited mobility.
Shavasana is an asana that is almost always employed at the end of a class. This “corpse pose” is a dedicated time for calming the body and mind. Students focus on the breath and sensations in the body while working to develop more constructive relationships with thoughts and feelings.
When seniors are no longer able to take care of themselves, they rely on caregivers to watch out for their health and safety. Those with dementia especially need caregivers, but it can be a stressful time for both parties. Yoga and meditation help caregivers and dementia patients stay active, focused and positive throughout their relationship.