If you are caring for an aging loved one, you likely focus many of your caregiving efforts around helping your family member maintain their physical health. And for good reason — a healthy lifestyle, preventive care, and treatment for chronic conditions all help aging adults lead active, independent lives for as long as possible.
However, research on the mind-body connection has shown that mental and emotional health are also important aspects of well-being. Your loved one’s thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions can affect the way their body feels and functions, and vice versa.
In recent years, many people have turned to mindfulness meditation as a tool to help manage stress, deal with challenging emotions, and improve overall well-being. It’s gained traction in the medical world, too. Mindfulness “is showing up in our practice,” says Ardeshir Hashmi, MD, Section Chief of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “And I am increasingly a convert to the practice myself.”
Mindfulness is the state of being fully present in the moment. Anytime you bring your awareness to what you are experiencing — your thoughts, your feelings, and the sensations in your body — you are being mindful. Every human has the capacity to be aware of and focused on the moment, but that doesn’t mean awareness and focus come easily. Our minds are great at rehashing the past and inventing stories about the future. And, the modern world offers plenty of diversions to distract us from the here and now.
Mindfulness activities, such as meditation, serve as tools that you and your loved one can use to practice being more present. Typical mindfulness meditation activities include breathing exercises, guided imagery, or focused attention prompts. No matter how you choose to practice, the goal is to tune into your individual experience with kindness and acceptance, rather than judgment or criticism.
According to Hashmi, cultivating mindfulness can benefit both seniors and caregivers alike. Read on to learn about these benefits and to get Dr. Hashmi’s tips for helping your aging loved one start their own mindfulness practice.
As they age, seniors are more likely to experience challenging life circumstances like loneliness or isolation, changes in health, chronic pain, and loss of friends or family. As such, they are also more likely to experience difficult emotions like anxiety, grief, or depression.
Mindfulness, Hashmi says, offers seniors and caregivers a solution for dealing with the physical and emotional ups and downs of aging.
“Mindfulness is very empowering for seniors,” Hashmi says. “They can do it every single day” as a tool to help them focus on the moment, recognize their emotions, and counter periods of stress.
And according to the research on meditation, having a regular meditation practice can also help reduce anxiety, pain, depression, fatigue, and inflammation.
There are seemingly as many ways to practice mindfulness as there are practitioners, and there’s no one right way to meditate. Instead, Hashmi says, aim to help your loved one find what works best for them.
Start the conversation. Share some of the potential benefits of practicing mindfulness. And, if you’re interested, offer to practice with your loved one.
Help them make a plan. To help make meditation a regular part of your loved one’s day, Hashmi suggests scheduling a dedicated time and place. Early morning works well for many seniors, but some might prefer the evening. Also have them think about where they might want to practice. Some may be more comfortable in a chair, while others may prefer to practice laying down.
Use guided meditations. Many people find guided meditations a helpful starting point. Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer are easy to use and offer a wide variety of options for beginners.
Look outside the box. If guided mediations aren’t your loved one’s cup of tea, encourage them to try other things. Any grounding activity that quiets the mind and brings them into the moment will do. For example, Hashmi suggests journaling, gratitude lists, or prayer as possible alternatives.
Caring for a family member is hard work and can take a serious toll on your emotional and physical well-being. Many caregivers experience feelings of guilt, stress, frustration, anger, and burnout. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your caregiving duties, it’s important to find ways to care for yourself.
Establishing a mindfulness practice of your own allows you to carve out time for yourself on a daily basis. Plus, meditation can help you better cope with the challenges that accompany caregiving and may help lower your levels of stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
So try out some of the mindfulness tips listed above. And if those don’t work for you, look for another activity, such as a caregiver support group. No matter what you choose, know that you can feel good about making yourself a priority.
This article was developed in conversation with Ardeshir Hashmi, MD, section chief of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine, as part of a series of articles featuring expert advice from Cleveland Clinic geriatricians.
Interview conducted with Hashmi, A. Cleveland Clinic. May 3, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Well-being concepts.
American Psychological Association. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Meditation: In-depth.
World Health Organization. Mental health of older adults.
National Institute on Aging. Taking care of yourself: Tips for caregivers.