Caregiving for individuals with dementia often involves a great deal of stress and has been associated with greater risk of a number of negative mental health outcomes for the caregiver. For example, such caregivers have five times the risk of major depression compared to the general population. This presents a great need for effective interventions that can decrease caregiver burden and depressive symptoms. One potential low-cost intervention aimed at reducing caregiver stress is mindfulness meditation. A recent meta-analysis looked at the impact of mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions for informal, unpaid caregivers.
This review of the research identified 12 studies that involved such interventions. The interventions all included a mindfulness component that encouraged participants to build their awareness of and disengagement from depressive cognitive processes. In some cases, this was coupled with other types of activities or therapy sessions. Those interventions that also added an acceptance component were designed to promote psychological flexibility and facilitate detachment from rigid rules or self-critical thoughts.
Overall, although there was some variation from study to study, the review found improvements in depressive symptoms, with the degree of improvement generally being high. This review also looked at caregiver burden; specifically caregivers’ perceptions of the degree to which the care recipient is dependent on them and the degree to which their own emotional, physical, social, or financial status declined as a result of caregiving. Here, the review found that the improvements from mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions but here the degree of improvement was small to medium-sized.
Moreover, researchers found that the attrition rate among participants in these studies was relatively low, at 16% overall. This offers further evidence that such interventions are found useful by caregivers and that they do not impose too much of a burden on top of caregiving and other duties.
Collins RN and Kishita N. The effectiveness of mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions for informal caregivers of people with dementia: a meta-analysis. The Gerontologist. (2018). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gny024