FYI Daily

The 12-Minute Routine That Cuts Caregiving Stress

Last updated:

March 15, 2012

It's no secret that Alzheimer's caregiving can be stressful business. It's also been established that mind-body practices can help ease the stress that can lead to symptoms of depression. Now a UCLA researcher has put the two together to show that practicing meditative yoga each day can improve mental functioning and lower levels of depression -- specifically among Alzheimer's caregivers.

The studied caregivers, ages 45 to 91, and a mix of adult children and spouses, were taught a 12-minute yoga practice that included an ancient chanting meditation called Kirtan Kriya. A control group relaxed in a quiet place with closed eyes while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD. Both groups practiced daily for 8 weeks.

While both forms of relaxation benefited stressed caregivers, the yoga practice delivered a one-two punch of being both relaxing and mentally stimulating.

"We found that the effects on cognitive and mental functioning and telomerase activity were specific to the Kirtan Kriya," Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said in PsychCentral. "Because Kirtan Kriya had several elements of using chanting, mudras (finger poses) and visualization, there was a "╦ťbrain fitness' effect in addition to stress-reduction that contributed to the overall effect of the meditation."

The researchers found that after 8 weeks, the meditation group showed a 50 percent improvement on a depression rating scale (compared to 31 percent improvement for the other group) as well as much higher mental health scores, according to the report published in International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The mediation practice may even help slow aging. It increased telomerase activity, a measure that's associated with slower cellular aging. (Psychological stress can influence longevity by affecting telomerase, the enzyme that maintains the DNA at the ends of chromosomes, known as telomeres.)

Many caregivers experience stress that can turn into depression. About half of dementia family caregivers are depressed, Lavretsky says. Caregiver depression tends to be double the national average, highest for family dementia caregivers.

You can search "Kirtan Kriya" online to find videos of the practice. Whether you choose to fight the risks of caregiver stress syndrome by taking up a chanting practice, joining a yoga studio -- or just trying to put your feet up and listen to instrumental music for 10 minutes a day, one thing's certain: Anything relaxing a caregiver does for himself or herself is a very good thing.

Image by Flickr user Muffet, used under a Creative Commons license.