As we grow older, we all dream of getting better. But as the years progress, we are surrounded by several mental and physical health issues. Mindfulness can help us deal with them one at a time and improve the quality of our lives. It offers a range of benefits for people of all ages.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about meditation for older adults. We’ll talk about meditation techniques for seniors that are easy to learn and follow. Then, we’ll also look at seven wonderful benefits of meditation for the elderly. These benefits are backed by scientific studies conducted on middle-aged and older adults.
- What is meditation?
- 7 Benefits of meditation for seniors
- 4 Easy meditation techniques for seniors
What is meditation?
Meditation refers to a bunch of techniques designed to train our awareness and attention. The aim is to build concentration and mindfulness to achieve a mentally calm state. There are different kinsds of meditation, but all of them are designed for one thing: purification or cleaning of the mind.
Mindfulness meditation is a popular form of meditation. It requires us to bring our attention to the present moment and notice the experiences occurring at the moment without judgment. Usually, we focus on our breath or bodily sensations in this practice.
Another form of meditation is transcendental meditation. It involves the use of a mantra to settle the mind and experience relaxation and inner peace. The idea is to mindfully repeat the sound of the mantra so that no other thoughts remain. In this state, the meditator achieves perfect stillness, rest, and stability.
Loving-kindness meditation is also practiced worldwide. It differs from other practices because it doesn’t require us to focus our attention on a particular object. In this meditation, we cultivate and send compassion to ourselves and everyone around us.
Meditation helps us understand our thoughts and feelings, allowing us to take control rather than being pushed around by them. It teaches us to see things as they are and observe the patterns and habits of the monkey mind.
7 Benefits of meditation for seniors
1. Improves short- and long-term memory
As you grow older, things start to disappear a lot. You have difficulties remembering where you put your phone or glasses. Short-term or “working” memory is a common challenge for the elderly. This is in part due to what’s called “proactive interference.” It’s when previously relevant material interferes with your ability to keep recent information.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce the impact of proactive interference. In a study, the participants were randomly assigned to either a creative writing course or a 4-week meditation program. They completed a memory test before and after the training. The researchers found that there was less proactive interference in the meditation group than the other group.(1)
Other studies suggest that meditators have a much larger hippocampus, linked to memory and learning.(2) Research has also linked meditation to improved long-term memory and attention.(3)
2. Decreases loneliness
Loneliness is another major challenge for older adults. A report from NASEM states that more than 33% of people over 45 feel lonely, and almost 25% of people over 65 are socially isolated.
Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to higher risks for several mental and physical conditions such as depression, cognitive decline, heart diseases, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and even premature death.(4)
Research reveals that meditation can work wonders for seniors gripped by loneliness. In a study, 40 older adults aged between 55 and 85 attended an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. After the training, the participants reported a reduced sense of loneliness. The researchers also found that meditation significantly decreased their inflammation levels.(5)
3. Enhances cognitive function
The human ability to focus on a particular task is limited, and the brain gets tired after some time. As we grow older, these limitations worsen, and our focus and attention span diminish rapidly.
However, meditation can help seniors retain the sharpness of their brains even in old age. It improves our focus or concentration, increases attention-span, and sharpens the mind.(6)(7)
Preliminary evidence suggests that regular meditation can counter the age-related cognitive decline.(8) Research also reveals that long-term meditators have more gray matter in the frontal cortex. This part of the brain is linked to decision-making, planning, and problem-solving. Usually, the prefrontal cortex shrinks as we age, but 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.(9)
4. Reduces stress
Stress seems to be a part of modern life at any age. Young adults often find it easier to get through those stressful times, but our bodies’ reaction to stress changes as we grow old. So it becomes a challenge for seniors.
Stress is the root of many physical and mental health conditions. pIt can cause older adults to look for relief in harmful activities like overeating, excessive drinking, smoking, or drugs. Chronic stress can temporarily diminish their visual and hearing ability. Digestive and dental issues are also commonly caused by stress in seniors. Apart from that, it also increases the risk of heart- and dementia-related diseases.
Research shows that meditation plays a significant role in stress reduction. It also decreases levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—and the post-stress inflammatory response.(10) Other studies reveal that these effects of mindfulness are strongest in people with the highest levels of stress.(11)
5. Improves physical health
It’s a difficult task to maintain physical fitness even in old age. Heart diseases, sleep disorders, and hypertension are common problems that the elderly face. Several scientific studies show that meditation improves our physical health by increasing immunity, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, and strengthening digestion.(12)(13)
Meditation has also been shown to improve sleep. Just six weeks of meditation training leads to less fatigue, insomnia, and depression for middle-aged and older adults.(14)
All meditation techniques are beneficial for the cardiovascular system and blood pressure control.(15) Researchers have also found that meditation increases the cardiac blood flow of patients with heart diseases by over 20%.(16)
Apart from that, there’s some evidence that mindfulness reduces the severity of irritable bowel syndrome.(17) It also helps people overcome addictions like smoking by increasing their self-control.
6. Enhances emotional wellbeing
It’s not a surprise that meditation contributes to our emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness can help us become more aware of our thoughts and emotions. This increased self-awareness leads to better control over our responses to external situations.
Research shows that mindfulness meditation enhances our mood and emotional processing. We can benefit from meditation by doing it as little as 15 minutes a day for seven consecutive days.(18)
Some techniques, such as loving-kindness, are designed to make you more empathetic and kinder toward others.(19) Transcendental meditation has been found to increase emotional intelligence and decrease stress levels.(20)
Apart from that, meditation also enhances self-management and self-control by weakening neural connections in the amygdala and strengthening connections in the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala handles fear and anger while the prefrontal cortex controls logic and rational thought.(21)(22)
7. Slows the progression of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are common among older adults. The National Institute on Aging states that up to 50% of all people aged 85 years or more have some form of dementia. However, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s and beyond with no signs of dementia.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that meditation plays a crucial role in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. 14 adults aged 55-90 years were divided into two groups, one of which performed meditation and yoga while the other received regular care. It was found that people in the meditation group had less atrophy in brain areas and better brain connectivity than the control group.(23)
Other studies suggest that Kirtan Kriya, a meditation practice, improves our memory. It also decreases anxiety, reduces depression, and improves sleep.(24)
4 Easy meditation techniques for seniors
Now that you know the benefits of meditation for the elderly, let’s discuss some simple ways to meditate. These are easy-to-learn techniques that don’t require much memorization or perfection.
1. Meditating in bed
Older adults often struggle to fall asleep. Meditation can be an excellent remedy for insomnia as it calms the mind and allows you to relax. By meditating in bed, the random thoughts keeping you awake slow down and you’re able to fall asleep quickly and easily. Here’s how to practice it:
- Lie down comfortably on your back. Relax and close your eyes. Your feet can be shoulder-width apart, and you can place your hands on the ground.
- Bring your attention to your toes, notice the sensations or discomfort, and let go of any tension. Slowly move up, noticing your fingers, sole, ankle, etc. Don’t move—just be aware of everything.
- Go all the way to your head. Notice each part of your body and let go of any tension.
- Repeat this from head to toe. In a few minutes, you’ll feel very relaxed and calm, and if you do it at night, you’ll fall asleep before you know it.
2. Sitting meditation
It may not be possible for seniors to cross their legs and sit down because of physical conditions. The good news is that sitting cross-legged isn’t necessary. It’s also possible to meditate while sitting in a chair. You don’t have to know the ins and outs of meditation posture to begin practicing. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit in a chair. Keep your back straight and place your feet flat on the ground. Rest your hands on your knees.
- Make sure you’re looking straight ahead and close your eyes without squeezing them. Keep your body firm but relaxed and try not to move during the session.
- Now, pay attention to your breath. Let the body breathe on its own and notice every inhalation and exhalation. You can be aware of the sensations at your nostrils or the rise and fall of your belly. The idea is to stay mindful of each breath.
- When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath.
3. Using guided meditations
Guided meditations are excellent if you want to just go with the flow and not have to remember what to do next. Although silent meditation—where you meditate by yourself—offers the most benefits, guided recordings can familiarize you with different techniques.
Audio recordings also offer relaxation sessions centered around different aspects of life. You can find many guided meditations for topics such as stress, anger, and loneliness. This is great for when you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to take a step back to address some inner issues. All you have to do is turn on the recording and follow the instructions.
Apart from YouTube, meditation apps are another source of guided sessions. They have courses to teach you meditation techniques and soundscapes for relaxation. Read this article to know more about how meditation apps work.
4. Walking meditation
Walking has its own health benefits, especially for seniors. It strengthens your muscles, keeps your joints flexible, and reduces the risk of various diseases. When you combine this exercise with mindfulness, you get the best of both worlds.
Walking meditation is an incredible mindfulness practice for older adults. It not only helps you feel more grounded and serene but also boosts blood circulation and raises your energy levels. If your body gets tired by practicing sitting meditation, taking a mindful walk will help you stretch your legs.
Studies show that walking meditation has positive effects on blood sugar levels and alleviates depression symptoms.(25)(26) It also reduces anxiety and makes exercise enjoyable.(27)(28)
To do walking meditation, find an open space where you can stroll around for a while. Join your hands together either behind your back or in front of you—don’t swing your arms. Lift your heel, then toe, and bring the foot forward. Notice how the body’s weight shifts as you do this. Place the heel on the ground, then the toe. Repeat this with the other foot to move forward mindfully.
The ancient practice of meditation offers many benefits for the elderly. It gives them a sharper mind, fitter body, and better emotion processing. If older adults find it difficult to meditate while sitting cross-legged, they can lie down, sit in a chair, or walk. Guided meditations are also beneficial as they can help address specific issues of life.
Needless to say, everyone should practice meditation regardless of their gender or age.
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