Feb 21, 2014 by Jeff Anderson

For the last two centuries, Western seekers, philosophers and scientists have looked to Eastern spirituality to see what they could learn, and what could be adapted to culture in the West. An aspect of Eastern thought which has resonated in the West is mindfulness, and mindfulness meditation. Research indicates that it has the potential to make positive differences in the lives of seniors.

While mindfulness draws from many aspects of Buddhism, it is not a belief system but an outlook and way of being. In short, it’s a “be here now” outlook on life that is fostered through practicing meditation. Mindfulness is practiced by Christians, atheists, and everyone in between. It helps practitioners develop a more aware outlook in every aspect of their life, and people who practice mindfulness and meditation report that they feel happier, more relaxed and even spontaneous.

If you are interested in learning more about the practice, “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” by Thich Nhat Hahn, is a great place to start. It includes mindfulness techniques and other similar practices that have been shown to benefit seniors.

Such benefits include:

1. Improved Longevity

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that there is evidence that elderly practitioners of mindfulness meditation and its cousin, transcendental meditation, experience improved longevity. The study followed a large number of seniors and found a significant decrease in mortality rates among those who meditate.

Another way that meditation may improve longevity is through preventing cellular aging, a mechanism suggested in a National Institutes of Health study.

2. Decreases Loneliness

Mindfulness and meditation have also been found to decrease loneliness, or rather, “promote connectedness.” A UCLA study found that seniors who engaged in a simple eight week meditation program significantly decreased rates of self-reported loneliness. Since isolation is a crucial problem among seniors, this is a promising avenue of research. Researchers went on to hypothesize that, since gene inflammation has been linked to feelings of loneliness, meditation may in fact inhibit gene inflammation.

3. Mindfulness Can Be Taught in Senior Communities

It’s never too late to learn to practice mindfulness. A study in Geriatric Nursing indicated that teaching mindfulness meditation and related techniques in senior communities can help improve resident health and feelings of connectedness.

4. Meditation May Slow Alzheimer’s

A double-blind study performed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center indicates that meditation and breathing exercises may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe that this may work by protecting the brain against anxiety and stress, which can worsen Alzheimer’s symptoms.

5. Meditation Reduced Healthcare Costs

A study in Journal of Social Behavior and Personality reportedly found that seniors who practiced meditation had significantly fewer hospitalizations. According to the study, the meditation group’s “five-year cumulative reduction in payments to physicians was 70% less than the control group’s [non-meditating group].

6. Improved Mood

A study conducted in Thailand supplemented walking therapy for seniors with a meditation component. They found that seniors who engaged in the meditation component had significantly better outcomes than seniors who merely were in the walking group: “Walking meditation was effective in reducing depression, improving functional fitness and vascular reactivity, and appears to confer greater overall improvements than walking without meditation.”

8. Their Caregivers Can Benefit Too

Another UCLA  study has looked at caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and found that caregivers who engage in “in a brief, simple daily meditation reduced the stress levels of people who care for those stricken by Alzheimer’s and dementia.” Researchers added, “psycho-social interventions like meditation reduce the adverse effects of caregiver stress on physical and mental health.”