HONOLULU -- Home-based caregivers of ill or elderly family members are under enormous physical and mental stress, but daily meditative yoga may be a simple, effective strategy for maintaining health, according to a study presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn.
UCLA researchers Helen Lavretsky and Michael Irwin conducted an eight-week, randomized trial on the effects of meditation exercise on 49 people who were home-based caregivers of a loved one with dementia. About half of the caregivers listened to relaxation tapes for 20 minutes a day for eight weeks, while the other caregivers practiced Kirtan Kirya yoga, a meditation exercise. The study’s authors then conducted tests on mental and cognitive health, did brain scans and measured telomere length. Telomeres are sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that are protective of cellular health. Measuring telomere length can be used to determine how fast a person is aging.
The study found strong evidence that a meditative yoga routine improves both mental and physical health. While caregivers in both groups experienced benefits, the caregivers practicing Kirtan Kirya yoga had more improvements in quality of life, cognition and memory. Those study participants reported better sleep and less anxiety and said they felt care-giving was less of a burden than before they participated in the study.
Surprisingly, the telomere analysis showed meditative yoga also had an anti-aging effect.
The study participants “were middle-aged women under a lot of stress,” said Lavretsky, a geriatric psychiatrist. “It’s a day-to-day struggle for them. But meditation is one thing that will definitely improve things.”