Author: juliapow

Mindfulness course for people living with dementia

I’m running a mindfulness training course for people living with mild to moderate dementia. I’m working with a small group of people with dementia to devise and adapt the course. It’s important to stick to an established evidence-based approach to teaching mindfulness, but simple things like visualising some of the concepts or allowing more time in sessions, may make the course more accessible.

The taster session is on Monday 6 July at 11am, and the eight-week course starts the following Monday. The taster session and the course are both free. There is limited availability on the course. Book your place for the orientation / taster session here.

What is mindfulness?

So what is mindfulness? I like this definition from “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.”

Why mindfulness for people with dementia?

So how might mindfulness help people living with dementia? According to Alzheimer’s Society it’s common for people with dementia to experience anxiety and depression. An increasing body of evidence proves that mindfulness can help to reduce significant mental health issues. My mother who had vascular dementia suffered bouts of intense anxiety. She also experienced such low moods that on occasion she was put on suicide watch. To help mum feel more settled and calm, I led her in some simple mindfulness practices like the body scan. I also regularly encouraged mum to tune into the present moment by suggesting we pause and listen to the sounds of birds or the waves of the sea, look at a flower, tree or view, and feel the breeze or sun on our faces.

Using our senses gives us the opportunity to experience life in the present moment. It also creates a break from the endless stream of worry about what happens next, or endless rumination about the past. Learning to be in the present moment can be an antidote to some of the rumination and worry.

However, mindfulness isn’t about avoiding difficulties. Instead it’s about bringing more awareness to how our minds work. We learn to recognise thoughts as ‘mental events’, and not necessarily as the truth. We learn to process emotional difficulties through sensations in the body, rather than by reacting automatically. Increased awareness can help us to respond more skillfully to life’s ups and downs.

Many courses and apps claim huge benefits from mindfulness. This can be confusing. How can we know which ones to trust or try? For me personally, I would start with the ones that have the strongest evidence behind them.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy works

An increasing body of evidence shows that the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course is effective at reducing depression and anxiety. The eight-week training course was originally developed to help reduce recurrence of depression. Extensive research has shown that this programme is at least as effective as counselling and drugs, without the side effects. It was included in the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence guidance over fifteen years ago. As a result, it is offered as a treatment by the NHS.

Peer reviewed studies now show that mindfulness based interventions are effective at reducing depression, anxiety and chronic pain, and improving working memory, attention span and reaction speeds. You can find out more about the potential benefits of mindfulness training in this extensive, well-referenced, list.

So given these benefits, and the propensity of people living with dementia to experience anxiety and depression, perhaps mindfulness could help. I will consult possible participants to make the course as relevant and accessible, as possible. I will also learn from previous experiences of mindfulness courses for people living with dementia. I aim to build on the small body of experience that has been documented and made available.

The MBCT course mentioned above has been adapted by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre to improve wellbeing for people in the general population in two different courses: MBCT for Life and Finding Peace in a Frantic World. During the consultation with people living with dementia we decideed to use the Finding Peace course with whatever adaptations may be necessary.

Orientation / taster session

However beneficial mindfulness might be for some people, it’s important to acknowledge that it isn’t a panacea, and it’s not right for everybody.

The orientation / taster session is on Monday, 6 July at 11am. This will help potential participants decide if a mindfulness course is right for them. The course will start the following Monday.

If you’re living with mild to moderate dementia and interested in attending the orientation / taster session please book your space here.

COVID-19 – An Opportunity to Practice Mindfulness?

COVID-19 is disrupting lives and causing huge stress and hardship for many. The necessary measures to contain the extremely contagious virus are increasing isolation and exacerbating existing mental health issues for lots of people.

Mindfulness can be a helpful way to reduce anxiety and stress. There’s lots of evidence that it works. Though, like most things it takes practice. If you find you have more time on your hands as a result of the lockdown, perhaps this is a good time to practice?

There’s been a proliferation of free online mindfulness courses and one-off sessions to help people cope with the new restrictions. For newcomers to mindfulness it may be difficult to know which sessions to choose. I have compiled a few (below) from well-respected mindfulness institutions and teachers.

Choose, schedule and prepare

Once you have chosen a mindfulness course or session to try, I suggest you do the following to help you prepare:

  1. Commit the time. Whether it is a live or pre-recorded session note how long it is beforehand, plan it into your schedule and commit that time to it.
  2. Let others know. Let other people in your household know that they shouldn’t disturb you during the session. Perhaps stick a reminder note to the outside of your door.
  3. Remove distractions. Silence your phone and turn off audible notifications. Shut down your computer and other devices. If you are using your computer to access the session, close all other applications.
  4. Get comfortable. Find a chair or cushions on a soft mat, where you can sit in an upright and comfortable position. If possible, try out a position where your back can be self-supporting.

Wednesday evenings live : Oxford Mindfulness Centre

The Oxford Mindfulness Centre has started weekly meditation sessions on Wednesdays at 7pm for one hour. The sessions include a meditation and discussion afterwards. It is for beginners and more advanced meditators alike. The topics are shared in advance, and a podcast of the meditation is available afterwards.
The podcast of the sessions will be available afterwards at the bottom of the page.

Live sessions throughout April: Mindfulness Network

The Mindfulness Network is a UK organisation that coordinates supervisors for teachers, organises retreats and teacher training. They have organised live online sessions with some of the UK’s leading mindfulness teachers at different days and times throughout April. The 40-minute sessions consist of:

  • 15 – 20-minute practice
  • 5 – 10-minute teaching
  • A short final practice

Free Online Practice Sessions

Daily sessions 7pm UK time: Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jon Kabat-Zinn leads these one-hour sessions all this week at 7pm. Jon Kabat-Zinn is an author, professor and teacher credited with mainstreaming mindfulness in the West. He created Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, the first eight-week mindfulness programme proven to improve health. The podcasts will be available online after the programmes have aired.

Pre-recorded half-day retreat: Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield

Leading mindfulness experts, authors and teachers Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield have made a half-day retreat available online. The session is three-hours in total and is part of an online course they run. It includes teaching, sitting meditations and mindful walking. The meditations are around twenty minutes.

The half-day retreat may be impractical for you especially if you are living with others who need your attention. Also, if you have never done a retreat or an extended period of meditation you might find this a bit long. However, if you would like a longer period of calm and peace this may be for you. I’ve done it and loved it.

POA: Half Day Retreat Giveaway