The U.S. population is a rapidly aging one. In the coming years, many, if not most of us, will face changes and challenges—in our family members, friends, and/or ourselves—related to health problems that occur with aging. These include dementia, which, although not a normal part of aging, is common in very elderly people. One problem that is sometimes overlooked in considering the burdens of dementia is its effects on the health of family members who assume the burdens of care. We are proud to be supporting several studies of interventions that aim to help caregivers.
Last week, I was interested to see results from an NCCAM-co-funded pilot study in a group of family caregivers (n = 39) of dementia patients. Caregivers were assigned either to daily practice of Kirtan Kriya, a brief meditation originating from Kundalini yoga, or to listen to relaxation music for 12 minutes per day for eight weeks. All participants had entered with mild depression; post-intervention, the meditation group had significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than the control group and more improvement in mental and cognitive functioning. This is a small study, but interventions like this offer promise. This study is a reminder of the need to develop stronger supports for the health, quality-of-life, and coping of people who shoulder the difficult task of care of patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of chronic dementia.