Dr. Helen Lavretsky, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and colleagues said the study involved 49 family caregivers who cared for a relative with dementia ages 45-91 -- including 36 adult children and 13 spouses.
The participants were randomized 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. The other 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.
After eight weeks, the researchers found the meditation group showed significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and greater improvement in mental health and cognitive functioning, compared with the relaxation group. The meditation group showed a 43 percent improvement in telomerase activity -- slower aging and improved immune cell longevity -- compared with 3.7 percent in the relaxation group.
"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 percent," Lavretsky said in a statement. "Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress and have an increased rate of cardiovascular disease and mortality."
The findings were published in online edition of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.