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When you are the chief caregiver for a family member or loved one, the demands made upon you can be great. This can be particularly true when the patient suffers with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Caring for the one who becomes so wholly dependent is a demanding role and can produce significant stress. Furthermore, the older the caregiver is him/herself, the greater the negative impact. Finding a way for the caregiver to de-stress is essential for their own health and even for the best care of their loved one. Some are saying that yoga could be the answer.

Today, approximately five million Americans are providing care for someone living with dementia. The older the caregiver is the more likely it is that they will experience notably less energy and a greater likelihood of depression as a result. In fact, the rate of clinical depression among those who are family caregivers is close to 50 percent. And, they are two times more likely to say that they feel a high degree of emotional stress.

Studies at UCLA and elsewhere have suggested that practicing yoga or even just yoga meditation can effectively lower the amount of inflammation in the body’s cells which is a direct result of stress.

Yoga usually brings to mind interesting physical contortions. Actually, the body positions practiced in yoga are a means of controlling blood flow in the body. As with any exercise, the physical exertion of certain moves can trigger hormones which lower stress and boost the person’s sense of well-being. In addition to positioning and movements, controlled breathing is another yoga practice associated with self-calming. However, while a person may look online or in a book to learn yoga positions and movements, breathing techniques will require the aid of a yoga instructor.

While exercise is a proven means of lowering stress, caregivers may not have time to take classes. Part of the stress of care giving is the sheer commitment of time it requires to be given to the other person. One study found that simply practicing yoga meditation for a few minutes a day without ever leaving the home can successfully reduce the level of stress the caregiver experiences. One meditation called Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM) was specifically tested for its ability to lower stress.

In the study, 45 people serving as family caregivers were divided into two randomly selected groups. One group was taught KKM and was asked to chant for 12 minutes each day for a period of eight weeks. The second group was asked to spend the same amount of time each day in a restful spot listening to relaxing instrumental music.

Before and after the eight week trial period researchers measured blood samples from each participant looking for certain proteins responsible for antiviral and inflammatory responses – a key indicator of stress. The results showed that yoga meditation and chanting worked to lower the activity of those proteins thereby reducing inflammation and stress.

So while no one fully understands the biochemical pathways, yoga meditation does appear to reduce stress. Finding a way to help the helper is crucial.

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