“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
There is a tremendous demand for caregiving in the US. It is estimated that over 65 million (29% of the adult population) provides care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, averaging 20 hours per week spent caring for their loved ones. In addition, caregiver demand is increasing due to the increase in our older adult population. But, this caregiving comes at a cost to the caregiver. It exacts an economic toll in lost work hours, income, and even the opportunity to take a promotion or relocate for a better position. But, more significantly, it exacts a tremendous toll on caregivers’ health and well-being. Caregiving has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety as well as higher use of psychoactive medications, poorer self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased mortality.
Palliative care of a dying loved one is particularly difficult as the emotional toll supplements the time and energy demands of the caregiving. The adverse effects of providing the care increase over the course of the disease, particularly as death approaches and tend to continue with bereavement. Hence there is a need to care for the caregivers. They are providing much needed care and support for the terminally ill family member, but need care and support themselves. This care for the caregiver is often totally lacking.
Mindfulness practice has been shown promise in improving the health and well-being of caregivers (see links at the bottom). Is it also effective for individuals providing end-of-life care? In today’s Research News article “Evaluating the effects of mindfulness-based interventions for informal palliative caregivers: A systematic literature review”
Jaffray and colleagues review the literature exploring this question. They report that the published literature shows that mindfulness practice reduces depression and caregiver burden and increases quality of life in informal caregivers of palliative care.
The effect sizes for the reported improvements were moderate. This suggests that mindfulness practice is helpful but is not a miracle treatment for this difficult situation. This indicates that there is need for further study to try to identify what sorts of practices are most effective to improve the effectiveness of mindfulness techniques.
Some studies obtained interviews with the caregivers who reported that the practice increased acceptance of the care recipient’s illness, as well as of the self and family, increased a sense of presence, increased the sense of peace and reduced stress, and decreased the reactivity response to difficult care recipient behavior. These reports are interesting and suggest that the mindfulness practice may be having its effects by improving non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. This is exactly what mindfulness practices are aimed at developing. These reports also suggest that improved emotion regulation may also be responsible for the improvements, allowing the caregiver to be more in touch with their emotions and improving their ability to respond appropriately to the emotions.
So, caregivers should practice mindfulness to care for themselves.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
Mindfulness practice improves the stress levels experienced by caregiver for autistic children (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/mindfulness-and-caregiving/) and in caregiving for spouses with chronic pain (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/18/have-a-healthy-relationship-with-mindfulness/).