Yoga can help Alzheimer carers cope

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Yoga can help Alzheimer's carers to cope better and improve their quality of life, according to new research.

Researchers in the US suggest that using yoga to engage in very brief, simple daily meditation can lead to improved brain power and lower levels of depression for caregivers.

The study, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), looked at 49 caregivers from 45-91 years old who were taking care of their relatives with dementia.

The participants were divided into two groups: a meditation group was taught a brief, 12-minute yogic practice that included an ancient chanting meditation, Kirtan Kriya, which was performed every day at the same time for eight weeks. Meanwhile, the second group was asked to relax in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD, also for 12 minutes every day at the same time for eight weeks.

At the end of the eight weeks, the researchers found that the meditation group showed significantly lower levels of depression and greater improvement in mental health, compared with the relaxation group.

In the meditation group, 65% showed a 50% improvement on a depression rating scale, and 52% of the group showed a 50% improvement on a mental health score.

This compared to a 31% depression improvement and a 19% mental health improvement for the relaxation group.

As the population continues to age over the next two decades, the prevalence of dementia and the number of family caregivers who provide support to these loved ones is expected to increase dramatically.

Many caregivers tend to be older themselves, leading 'impaired resilience' to stress and an increased rate of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Dr Helen Lavretsky, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said: "We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression. On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50%. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress."

The report appears in the current online edition of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

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