[Thank you, John Alberti, for bringing up this topic.]
We all know words or concepts which became trendy. In the late 90’s and early 00’s everyone wanted thinking “outside the box”. Lately, the “must eat” food has become avocados. Seriously, did any of us grow up with avocados around? Or, during the 2008 recession, people began taking “staycations”. Occasionally, something new, or at least labeled in a new way, can be helpful. Mindfulness is one of these “new” concepts.
You’ve probably heard someone use the word mindfulness…what does it mean? Mindfulness, at its core, is about being aware of the here and now, free from distraction or negative thoughts. People often equate mindfulness with meditation. They certainly can be used together. There is a growing body of work which postulates that mindfulness, for those with PD, is the equivalent of exercise for the brain. We all know exercise of the body is one, if not the, most effective treatment modality for Parkinson’s. And we know PD is a disease process of the brain. So, doesn’t it stand to reason those with Parkinson’s should also exercise their brain?
In an interesting article from the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine called, Changing the Brain-Can Mindfulness Ease the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?, the authors discovered Parkinson’s patients, who were provided with weekly mindfulness exercises, meditation, yoga and audio guided meditation which could be practiced at home, had increased grey matter in the hippocampus (right and left), in the right amygdala, in the right and left caudate nucleus, left occipital lobe and left thalamus as evidenced on MRI. Why is this important? These are the critical parts of the brain PD can and does affect. These MRI changes were not found in the control group of Parkinson’s patients, who were not provided with mindfulness tools. This is only one, relatively small, test group. But mindfulness has become an exploding new tool in the arsenal for those with tremors or other physical limitations, forgetfulness, anxiety and depression associated with and/or accompanying PD. (https://www.nicabm.com/changing-the-brain-can-mindfulness-ease-the-symptoms-of-parkinsons-disease/)
The Brian Grant Foundation performed a study on How Mindfulness Meditation Helps Parkinson’s. They found that, “[Meditation] can boost feelings of control and resilience, reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep and increase grey matter in the brain.” They go on to explain that mindfulness involves breathing techniques to bring, “deliberate, but not judgmental, attention to the thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations of the present moment.” The authors summarize numerous scientific studies showing mindfulness practices to increase grey matter in the brain of those with PD, thereby reducing unwanted and repetitive physical movements, stress, anxiety and depression. But mindfulness must be practiced routinely to build this brain muscle memory. (https://briangrant.org/how-mindfulness-meditation-helps-parkinsons/)
The authors outline tools to learning mindfulness techniques, see below:
1. Ask your physician about mindfulness-based stress reduction programs,
2. There are online courses, such as the one offered by The University of Massachusetts Medical School (https://www.umassmemorialhealthcare.org/umass-memorial-center-mindfulness)
3. Look locally for workshops or classes in mindfulness, meditation or gentle yoga,
4. There are many YouTube videos (https://images.app.goo.gl/nwuanxaQqWN1Af9q9)
you might try. Just type in “Mindfulness in Parkinson’s” on YouTube, or
5. Headspace or Calm (these are apps on your phone/tablet/laptop).
The Parkinson’s Foundation has Zoom programs every week called Mindfulness Monday. (https://www.parkinson.org/events/2020/PDHealth/MM-4) There is no charge for this program but you do need to register. The topic this coming week is Mindfulness of Thoughts. They also have recordings of the past weeks’ events. Some of those include Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness in Daily Life and Nutrition and Mindful Eating. I have not yet sat through one of their programs, but I think Dad and I will do so this coming week.
Let me just add, there are many, many helpful presentations, tutorials and classes on YouTube on Mindfulness in PD as well as on virtually any topic you might think of related to Parkinson’s. It is a tool worth learning how to use and, once you try it, I think you will find it to be relatively easy. (If not, contact me, perhaps I can help.)
Caregivers, mindfulness is your friend as well. Mindfulness can help caregivers learn to stay in the moment, productively handle negative emotions and reduce anxiety. Here are some articles just for caregivers:
1. Put Your Oxygen Mask on First: The Benefits of Mindfulness for Caregivers (https://www.welbi.co/single-post/benefits-of-mindfulness-for-caregivers)
2. Three Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce Caregiver Stress (https://seniorsathome.jfcs.org/mindfulness-exercises-caregivers/)
3. How to Avoid Caregiver Stress and Burnout with Mindfulness (https://homecareassistance.com/blog/5-mindfulness-exercises-relieve-caregiver-burnout)
4. Reducing Dementia Caregiver Stress: Focus on Mindful Meditation (https://mindfulnessandgrief.com/mindfulness-dementia-caregiver-stress/)
5. Guided Mindfulness Scripts (https://alzheimersandmindfulness.wordpress.com/all-about-mindfulness/guided-mindfulness-meditation-scripts/)
Go forth then, mindfully, and exercise your brain as well as your body.