Possibly Improve Dementia Patient Caregiver Mental Health with Mindfulness

Possibly Improve Dementia Patient Caregiver Mental Health with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“One of the major difficulties that individuals with dementia and their family members encounter is that there is a need for new ways of communicating due to the memory loss and other changes in thinking and abilities. The practice of mindfulness places both participants in the present and focuses on positive features of the interaction, allowing for a type of connection that may substitute for the more complex ways of communicating in the past. It is a good way to address stress.” – Sandra Weintraub


Dementia is a progressive loss of mental function produced by degenerative diseases of the brain. Dementia patients require caregiving particularly in the later stages of the disease. Caregiving for dementia patients is a daunting intense experience that can go on for four to eight years with increasing responsibilities as the loved one deteriorates. This places tremendous psychological and financial stress on the caregiver. Hence, there is a need to both care for the dementia patients and also for the caregivers. Mindfulness practice for caregivers has been shown to help them cope with the physical and psychological demands of caregiving. In addition, mindfulness training has been found to help protect aging individuals from physical and cognitive declines.


There has accumulated a considerable body of research on the effectiveness of mindfulness to improve the psychological health of caregivers for dementia patients. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-based stress reduction for family carers of people with dementia.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6513415/), Liu and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the published research studies on the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training for the relief of the psychological distress produced by caring for a patient with dementia. The MBSR program generally consisted of 8 weekly group sessions involving meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. The patients were also encouraged to perform daily practice.


They found and included 5 controlled research studies containing a total of 201 caregivers. They report that the published research was generally of low quality with great concerns regarding the precision of measurements. Ignoring these concerns the studies that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training in comparison to active control conditions produced small reductions in caregivers levels of depression and anxiety.


In general, there are indications that the MBSR program produces small improvements in caregivers’ levels of anxiety and depression but the quality of the evidence is low. This is an important area as caregiving for dementia patients is needed but difficult and exacts a toll on the caregiver. So, relieving the caregivers suffering is very important. Hence, the review identified a great need for more better designed and executed research.


So, possibly improve dementia patient caregiver mental health with mindfulness.


In regard to dementia care, mindfulness is not just a stress-reduction tool. It can also help with another critical aspect of dementia caregiving: the need to meet the person in the present moment, where they are most likely to reside and engage due to the dementia.” – Marguerite Manteau-Rao


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Liu, Z., Sun, Y. Y., & Zhong, B. L. (2018). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for family carers of people with dementia. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 8(8), CD012791. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012791.pub2




Caring for people with dementia is highly challenging, and family carers are recognised as being at increased risk of physical and mental ill‐health. Most current interventions have limited success in reducing stress among carers of people with dementia. Mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR) draws on a range of practices and may be a promising approach to helping carers of people with dementia.


To assess the effectiveness of MBSR in reducing the stress of family carers of people with dementia.

Search methods

We searched ALOIS ‐ the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group’s Specialized Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (all years to Issue 9 of 12, 2017), MEDLINE (Ovid SP 1950 to September 2017), Embase (Ovid SP 1974 to Sepetmber 2017), Web of Science (ISI Web of Science 1945 to September 2017), PsycINFO (Ovid SP 1806 to September 2017), CINAHL (all dates to September 2017), LILACS (all dates to September 2017), World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP), ClinicalTrials.gov, and Dissertation Abstracts International (DAI) up to 6 September 2017, with no language restrictions.

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of MBSR for family carers of people with dementia.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors independently screened references for inclusion criteria, extracted data, assessed the risk of bias of trials with the Cochrane ‘Risk of bias’ tool, and evaluated the quality of the evidence using the GRADE instrument. We contacted study authors for additional information, then conducted meta‐analyses, or reported results narratively in the case of insufficient data. We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.

Main results

We included five RCTs involving 201 carers assessing the effectiveness of MBSR. Controls used in included studies varied in structure and content. Mindfulness‐based stress reduction programmes were compared with either active controls (those matched for time and attention with MBSR, i.e. education, social support, or progressive muscle relaxation), or inactive controls (those not matched for time and attention with MBSR, i.e. self help education or respite care). One trial used both active and inactive comparisons with MBSR. All studies were at high risk of bias in terms of blinding of outcome assessment. Most studies provided no information about selective reporting, incomplete outcome data, or allocation concealment.

  1. Compared with active controls, MBSR may reduce depressive symptoms of carers at the end of the intervention (3 trials, 135 participants; standardised mean difference (SMD) ‐0.63, 95% confidence interval (CI) ‐0.98 to ‐0.28; P<0.001; low‐quality evidence). We could not be certain of any effect on clinically significant depressive symptoms (very low‐quality evidence).

Mindfulness‐based stress reduction compared with active control may decrease carer anxiety at the end of the intervention (1 trial, 78 participants; mean difference (MD) ‐7.50, 95% CI ‐13.11 to ‐1.89; P<0.001; low‐quality evidence) and may slightly increase carer burden (3 trials, 135 participants; SMD 0.24, 95% CI ‐0.11 to 0.58; P=0.18; low‐quality evidence), although both results were imprecise, and we could not exclude little or no effect. Due to the very low quality of the evidence, we could not be sure of any effect on carers’ coping style, nor could we determine whether carers were more or less likely to drop out of treatment.

  1. Compared with inactive controls, MBSR showed no clear evidence of any effect on depressive symptoms (2 trials, 50 participants; MD ‐1.97, 95% CI ‐6.89 to 2.95; P=0.43; low‐quality evidence). We could not be certain of any effect on clinically significant depressive symptoms (very low‐quality evidence).

In this comparison, MBSR may also reduce carer anxiety at the end of the intervention (1 trial, 33 participants; MD ‐7.27, 95% CI ‐14.92 to 0.38; P=0.06; low‐quality evidence), although we were unable to exclude little or no effect. Due to the very low quality of the evidence, we could not be certain of any effects of MBSR on carer burden, the use of positive coping strategies, or dropout rates.

We found no studies that looked at quality of life of carers or care‐recipients, or institutionalisation.

Only one included study reported on adverse events, noting a single adverse event related to yoga practices at home

Authors’ conclusions

After accounting for non‐specific effects of the intervention (i.e. comparing it with an active control), low‐quality evidence suggests that MBSR may reduce carers’ depressive symptoms and anxiety, at least in the short term.

There are significant limitations to the evidence base on MBSR in this population. Our GRADE assessment of the evidence was low to very low quality. We downgraded the quality of the evidence primarily because of high risk of detection or performance bias, and imprecision.

In conclusion, MBSR has the potential to meet some important needs of the carer, but more high‐quality studies in this field are needed to confirm its efficacy.



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