Not just a buzzword, mindfulness is a great way to ground ourselves in the present. And, for people living with dementia, mindfulness can be a very powerful activity…
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” Mother Teresa
Used to combat stress, anxiety, depression, pain management and other mental health challenges, mindfulness is simply about taking time to pay attention to our experience in the present moment.
Doing this has the effect of slowing our breathing, calming us down and stopping a busy mind from worrying and racing ahead. Recommended by health experts for mental well-being, it can really improve life for people living with dementia.
People living with dementia can experience mood swings, changes in behaviour and increased sensitivity to noise, crowds and activity. In addition, those who have experienced loss or are going through a significant change like a move to a care home may have symptoms of depression.
Previous studies have found that mindfulness meditation reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain at the same rate as antidepressant medication, and there is increasing evidence that mindfulness activities slow the progression of memory-related diseases like dementia.
Mindfulness also helps the person to stop worrying about being forgetful or confused, and to focus on what they can do now, and it also helps improve attention, memory and general cognition. It might even help with self-awareness, and emotion regulation.
Three simple mindfulness techniques to get started.
Breathing – Take a few moments to focus on breathing. Feel the flow of air in, and out; feel the belly rise, and fall. Do this several times.
Taking notice – Tap into each of your senses – what can you hear, smell, see, touch? Even when you are doing day-to-day things – driving, eating, walking – start to notice the colours around you, the textures you can feel, the sounds around you. Looking for these things brings you back to the present moment again.
Bringing your thoughts back – Look out for times when you’re running on autopilot – stop, just for a moment, close your eyes, breathe. Acknowledge that your mind will wander, allow the thoughts, and then bring your mind back to your moment of mindfulness.
Once you have mastered the simplicity of breathing and taking notice, it’s time to move onto some simple exercises to try with your loved one. What works best for people living with dementia is engaging exercises which entirely hold their attention for a short time, making them focus on what is happening right now.
Here are a few exercises to try with your relative…
The Breathing Circle – This is a great breathing exercise to do with an individual. It only takes a few minutes and is simple to follow. Draw a large circle on a piece of paper, mark the top and bottom of the circle with a small dot. Then, slowly inhale, while drawing your finger in a clockwise direction along the circle from the top mark to the bottom mark. When you reach the bottom, slowly exhale as you trace your finger back towards the top. Repeat, and use hand-over-hand motion to support the individual in doing the exercise themselves.
Guess Which Hand – Move a small object from hand to hand, several times. Then close your hands into fists. The aim is for your relative to guess which fish the object is hidden in.
The Raisin Exercise – A well-known mindfulness exercise, this is a great way to start with mindfulness, by centring attention entirely on one object. Any food can be used and an unfamiliar food or one with unusual qualities works best. Ask your relative to describe how the item looks, feels, smells and tastes. Simple!
Body Scan – A simple way to slow down the mind and body, and release tension. Make sure your relative is sat in a comfortable position, their palms facing upwards and feet slightly apart. Ask them to close their eyes and breathe. Then, move their attention to their feet, concentrate on any tension there, it might help them to curl their toes and then release them. Move slowly up the body – legs, stomach, chest, arms, shoulders, head – finding tension and releasing it. Finish with a few more deep breaths and then open your eyes.
And finally – a few other mindfulness exercises…
In addition to the activities listed above, try these mindfulness exercises for added benefit:
- Use aromatherapy – Pick a range of scents to help with mood, energy and healing.
- Listen to calming music – There is a wide range of relaxation music available, and many online music platforms will have calming playlists.
- Try therapeutic colouring – This is great for quietening the mind. If your relative can’t colour, look at some online programmes that do a digital version of paint-by-numbers which you can use a touchpad for.