How meditation and mindfulness can help those grappling with dementia – The Times of Northwest Indiana

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Julie Collins, program manager of the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Indiana Chapter, with Saige Addison, notes how yoga and other mindfulness techniques can help dementia patients.
It is often noted that while some diseases rob an individual of their ability to do certain things or perform certain functions, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease attack one’s actual sense of self.
Julie Collins has heard this description time and time again in speaking with families and loved ones of patients in her work as the Northwest Indiana program manager for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter. And she knows well that while there are plenty of challenges that come with a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis, one of the most immediate is simply finding a way to come to terms with that most basic impending loss.
“Oftentimes when we think about who we are, we think about things like our job, the things we love to do, our accomplishments, our role as a partner and how we’ve raised our children,” Collins explains. “So when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they may feel like they are losing a sense of self.”
The ways in which people try to deal with this new reality are as varied as the patients, with Collins noting that many find renewed meaning in things such as prayer, yoga, tai chi, spending more time in nature or simply being more engaged with their loved ones. Others, she says, choose to focus on mindfulness and meditation in this challenging period.
“Especially in the early or middle stages, people with dementia may find that mindfulness and meditation can give them a greater sense of self that comes from within,” Collins says. “That can be incredibly helpful for dealing with the emotions that come with a dementia diagnosis. It may also help for them to reflect on what has helped them during difficult times in the past and see if they can incorporate those things again.”
Of course, many people may not have had any experience with such practices. Meditation and mindfulness tend to be what an individual wants them to be. For example, Collins says a person with dementia may want to ask themselves “How do I experience peace and serenity?” Maybe such feelings come from things like gardening or listening to music from the past or bird watching or spending time with a pet. Once determined, the next goal should be to find a way to build some part of that into the everyday routine — starting with getting in the right frame of mind.
“If someone hasn’t focused on mindfulness in the past, something as simple as deep breathing and focusing on the breath may be a good place to start,” Collins notes. “It’s important to keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to approach mindfulness and that they shouldn’t get frustrated with themselves if one technique or another doesn’t work for them at first.”
As with all things related to dementia or Alzheimer’s, the pursuit of mindfulness has a better chance of success with plenty of support from family members and loved ones. In fact, given the mental and emotional toll that these diseases often take on caregivers as well, Collins believes they, too, may  benefit from meditation and mindfulness efforts.
“One way to approach it would be to participate in relaxation techniques together,” she advises. “In addition to meditation, these could include things such as visualization (mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm) and progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end).”
For more information and support, call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900.

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Julie Collins, program manager of the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Indiana Chapter, with Saige Addison, notes how yoga and other mindfulness techniques can help dementia patients.
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