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Mindfulness and meditation for older adults

Mindfulness, coupled with meditation (also referred to as mindfulness meditation) is gaining popularity among people of all ages and walks of life. Mindfulness is all about truly being in the moment, maintaining a full awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of one’s thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, often accessed through the practice of meditation. When we are mindful, we notice and accept our thoughts or environment without immediately reacting to them. We just let them be.

Since introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, there have been many studies that documented physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. Seniors who practice meditation may find some of these benefits conferred to them as well—and will surely, at the very least, enjoy a few minutes of quiet relaxation.

What is meditation?
Meditation provides a time of quiet reflection and a short respite from daily cares.
This practice uses mindfulness and breathing techniques to focus the mind on a particular thought, object, or activity. It can be done as guided meditation with a facilitator or alone. It helps train one’s attention and can help achieve greater mental clarity and emotional calm. You can start with just a few minutes a day and work your way up to 20 or 30 minutes. All you need is a comfortable straight-backed chair and a quiet room.

Benefits of meditation for seniors
Among the benefit of meditation for seniors are a more focused mind and better memory, enhanced digestion, improved mood, and reduced stress. Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

1 – Sharper mind, better memory: Studies by neuroscientists have confirmed a link between practicing meditation and memory improvement. Regular meditation increases blood flow to the brain, creating a stronger network of blood vessels in the cerebral cortex—the region that deals with learning, concentration and memory. Beneficial effects may be seen in both short-term and long-term memory—good news for all of us as we get older! Regular meditation has also been shown to actually change the brain’s physical structure; increasing the areas responsible for personality, self-awareness, and planning increase while shrinking the region associated with negative emotion or anxiety. This leads to enhanced creativity and improved focus and cognitive function.

2 – Slow down dementia’s progression: In tandem with boosting memory and improving cognition, meditation and breathing exercises can also slow down dementia-related conditions and help the person deal with the anxiety or depression that may accompany memory loss. At Lester Senior Living, residents in our independent and assisted living residences, as well as our Memory Care Suite, enjoy weekly balance and mindfulness classes to help them enhance their mental acuity and mobility, and prevent falls.

4. Enhance digestion: Meditation includes deep breathing exercises (deep breathing also often occurs naturally as the person becomes more relaxed and focused). The deeper breathing improves circulation, thereby increasing oxygen levels in the blood which can aid in digestion.

5. Improve mood: As we age, many of us find our moods change unexpectedly; or, changes in lifestyle or personal loss may affect older adults. Since meditation focuses on mindfulness—that non-judgmental acceptance of the moment—the practice can help us observe and accept emotions rather than react to them.

6. Promote relaxation/calm: Think of meditation as a chance to take a break from daily life, make time for connect to yourself, organize your thoughts, and take a lot of cleansing deep breaths that have a calming effect.

In addition to balance & mindfulness, residents at Lester Senior Living enjoy yoga and Zumba classes, or work out in our well-equipped fitness center—part of the Lester lifestyle that also includes a full range of creative arts classes, and cultural and educational programs. For more information, contact David Rozen at (973) 929-2725 or davidr@jchcorp.org. You can also follow the community on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LesterSeniorLiving/.

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