Improve Psychological Health in the Elderly with Mindfulness

Improve Psychological Health in the Elderly with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“In nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, loneliness, depression, and anxiety are considerable risk factors for residents. Mindfulness may help elders to find peace within themselves with daily practice.” – GoldenCares


Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development but regret their decline during aging. As we age, there are systematic progressive declines in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities and results in impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Aging also results in changes in mental health. Depression is very common in the elderly. The elderly cope with increasing loss of friends and family, deteriorating health, as well as concerns regarding finances on fixed incomes. All of these are legitimate sources of worry. In addition, many elderly experience withdrawal and isolation from social interactions. But, no matter how reasonable, the increased loneliness, worry and anxiety add extra stress that can impact on the elderly’s already deteriorating physical and psychological health.


Mindfulness appears to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues that occur with aging. It appears to strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation. It has also been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging. and improve cognitive processes. It has also been shown to reduce anxietyworry, and depression and improve overall mental health. Since the global population of the elderly is increasing at unprecedented rates, it is imperative to investigate safe and effective methods to improve mental health in the elderly. In addition, more and more elderly individuals are residing in continuing care retirement communities. Hence it is important to find treatment methods amenable to implementation in these facilities.


In today’s Research News article “An Adapted Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program for Elders in a Continuing Care Retirement Community: Quantitative & Qualitative Results from a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Moss and colleagues recruited elderly residents, predominantly female (82%), of a continuing care retirement community. They were 62 to 92 years of age. They were randomly assigned to either receive an adapted Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or to a wait-list control condition. The MBSR program was presented for 2 hours, once a week, for 8 weeks with 30-minute daily home practice. It consisted of the standard meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. But, yoga practice was changed to chair yoga to be better practiced by the elderly. The participants were measured before and after the treatment for acceptability of the program including attendance and rate of home practice, health, psychological flexibility, mindfulness, self-compassion, anxiety, depression, and somatization.


They found a high degree of acceptability of the program with only 20% dropping out and the participants averaged 5 days a week of home practice. In comparison to the baseline and wait-list control group, the participants who received the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) had significantly improved psychological flexibility and reduced physical limitations. In comparison to baseline the MBSR participants had significantly greater observing mindfulness, mental health, and vitality, and significantly less emotional limitations. The participants reflected that after the training they were better able to attend to the present moment, had greater well-being, self-compassion and kindness, and reduced self-judgement and stress.


These are wonderful results that demonstrate that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an acceptable, safe, and effective program to enhance the psychological health of elderly residents of a continuing care retirement community. The adaptations to the program to recognize the physical limitations of the elderly did not appear to blunt its’ effectiveness and perhaps made it more acceptable. Future research should employ an active control condition, such as aerobic exercise to better control for confounding variables. Regardless, the MBSR program would appear to have great benefits for the aging population.


So, improve psychological health in the elderly with mindfulness.


“Often elderly people can live uncomfortable, lonely, quiet lives. Teaching them to pay attention moment by moment, on purpose but without judgement, to each of their experiences, can improve of the quality of their lives, based on the demonstrated effectiveness of mindfulness techniques in many forms of therapy. Mindfulness practice has a definite positive impact on issues such as recurrent depression, stress, anxiety, chronic physical pain and loneliness. For the elderly, chronic health conditions, the loss of self-determination in their daily lives, isolation, and a lack of interaction with the outside world can understandably take much of the joy out of life.” – MyHomecare


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Moss, A. S., Reibel, D. K., Greeson, J. M., Thapar, A., Bubb, R., Salmon, J., & Newberg, A. B. (2015). An Adapted Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program for Elders in a Continuing Care Retirement Community: Quantitative & Qualitative Results from a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Applied Gerontology : The Official Journal of the Southern Gerontological Society, 34(4), 518–538.



The purpose of this study was to test the feasibility and effectiveness of an adapted 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for elders in a continuing care community. This mixed-methods study used both quantitative and qualitative measures. A randomized wait-list control design was used for the quantitative aspect of the study. Thirty-nine elderly were randomized to MBSR (n=20) or a wait-list control group (n=19); mean age 82 years. Both groups completed pre-post measures of health related quality of life, acceptance and psychological flexibility, facets of mindfulness, self-compassion, and psychological distress. A subset of MBSR participants completed qualitative interviews. MBSR participants showed significantly greater improvement in acceptance and psychological flexibility and in role limitations due to physical health. In the qualitative interviews, MBSR participants reported increased awareness, less judgment and greater self-compassion. Study results demonstrate the feasibility and potential effectiveness of an adapted MBSR program in promoting mind-body health for elders.


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