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Meditation for caregivers proves beneficial

July 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A few minutes a day of meditation are like gold to Leslie Migdal of West L.A. For years, she's been caring for her ailing husband, Richard, who has dementia. The stress took a huge toll on her health.

"I'd actually developed gastric ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome, hiatal hernia," she said.

She had to take pain medication. Caregivers like Migdal report higher levels of stress, depression and less satisfaction with life.

"The rate of cardiovascular disease, any kind of other diseases, morbidity and mortality are much higher in caregivers compared to non-caregivers," said UCLA geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky.

She knows first-hand about the stressors caregivers are under. So she experimented with a 12-minute session of the ancient practice of Kirtan Kriya Meditation. One group of caregivers did the yoga once a day. Others listened to relaxing music. After eight weeks, the yoga group did far better.

Not only did Lavretzy chart symptoms such as mood and mental health, she also looked at the positive effect Kirtan Kyria Meditation had on the genetic expressions in chromosomes.

"We looked at the gene expression on multiple genes and 68 genes showed change," she said.

The positive change can slow the body's inflammatory processes that cause disease.

"I mean, 60 minutes of yoga would be better but if you don't have time, 12 minutes of brief meditation during the day, especially in the morning would be great for your health," she said.

Migdal no longer needs her pain meds. She feels healthier, happier and urges other caregivers to care for themselves.

"If you can't find time to do 12 to 20 minutes of meditation for yourself a day, you're not going to live, you're not taking care of yourself," she said.

While this study was done on caregivers and stress, Lavretsky says the technique can benefit everyone.

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