A lot of older adults are chronically lonely. While some people disregard this fact, loneliness is found to be a major risk factor for health problems such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and even death. In a report by the Charity Help, it was shown that almost half a million pensioners only get the chance to leave home once a week, while 300,000 are totally housebound.
There are different ways to alleviate loneliness. They include creating social network programs such as community centres where old people can engage in healthy, recreational activities. However, these strategies have not been proven effective. In a new study published in the Brain, Behaviour & Immunity, it was found that mindfulness meditation in older adults helps reduce loneliness significantly. The research was led by J. David Creswell of the Carnegie Mellon University, who was the first to offer evidence of the positive effects of meditation in lonely seniors.
Mindfulness Meditation and Loneliness
Creswell and his team of researchers recruited 40 healthy adults ages 55 to 85 to join a mindfulness meditation program. Before and after the study, each of the participants was assessed to establish their level of loneliness. The researchers also collected blood samples from them. Then, they were randomly assigned to receive either Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or no treatment at all. The MBSR lasted for eight weeks. Participants were also asked to do perform mindfulness meditation techniques for at least 30 minutes every day at home.
The researchers found that those who had MBSR experienced a reduction in loneliness. By checking the blood samples, they also observed that the pro-inflammatory gene expression in the immune cells of the participants went down. This means that they had lower risks of developing inflammatory diseases. Inflammation has been linked to a wide range of illnesses including neurodegenerative disease, cancer, and heart problems.
This research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults." said Creswell. He pointed out the importance of addressing loneliness issues to prevent the onset of serious health problems.
Although the results were impressing, Creswell admitted that more work needs to be done to further prove the effects of mindfulness meditation to loneliness and inflammatory diseases.