“There are four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” (Rosalynn Carter, 1999) Many elders need some assistance, some are fully dependent on their caregivers. Family and para-professionals provide this physically and emotionally challenging care. The relationships between caregiver and care receiver are often meaningful and rewarding, and often stressful at the same time. Caregiver stress and burnout is frequent, and stress is contagious! The stress reducing skills taught in mindfulness practices have benefits for both care giver and care receiver. The practices may need to be adapted for those with limited time and considerations for cultural and educational differences. Abundant research has demonstrated the benefits of mindfulness for caregivers, and a variety of interventions can be offered for variety of settings.
Poverty and marginalization increase the likelihood of stress and stress related illnesses. Research has shown that, mindfulness programs especially those designed for individuals struggling with chronic conditions related to lifestyle choices or conditions such as incarceration, substance abuse, unsafe sex, obesity and anger management, lead to healthier decision making as well as improvements in disease indicators.
The world’s population is aging rapidly. Those over-65 are living longer, but often with chronic conditions and disability. Mindfulness practices teach us to live with chronic conditions, including physical and emotional pain and loss. While often thought of as an intervention or skills, the underlying teaching of mindfulness offers a different way of relating to our life and life circumstances- focusing on abilities, not disabilities. And despite all medical advances, chronic conditions are, by definition, not curable or fixable- they can only be managed with symptom relief. Aging and disabilities often lead to dependency and feelings of disempowerment. Dependent elders may be reminded of their losses and their disability. Through mindfulness practice, they can find their inner strengths and resources to cope. Mindfulness groups and practices foster an awareness of life, moment by moment, allowing elders to face illness, pain, and loss with increased presence and equanimity. The practices can be adapted and modified for those with physical and cognitive challenges, and even at the end of life. Whether at home, or in group/institutional settings, these practices can be introduced to teach stress reduction for both care givers and care receivers. Wherever we are in our life span, we are aging!