Many seniors turn to yoga, tai chi, deep breathing and other forms of meditation to relieve stress. While studies examining meditation's effect on stress and anxiety have been largely inconclusive, a new federal report determines that the practice is effective as a means to reduce chronic and acute pain, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Meditation gets federal approval
The draft report issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within the Department of Health and Human Services assesses research about the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments. While the research reports mindfulness and meditation are viable solutions for pain, it found there is an insufficient body of research to support the claim that meditation can promote positive feelings, weight loss, increased attention span and better sleeping habits.
It is important to note that the report does not distinguish between the many different forms of this practice - whether transcendental meditation or mindfulness-based meditation. Additionally, the studies included in the assessment reviewed short courses in meditation. The panel releasing the report notes that the benefits of meditation may be difficult to prove in short-term trials.
"Historically, the general public did not conceptualize meditation as a quick fix toward anything," the panel wrote in the draft report. "It was a skill one learns and practices over time to increase one's awareness, and through this awareness, gain[s] insight and understanding into the various subtleties of existence."
Meditation enters mainstream Western healthcare
Still, it is interesting to note the way meditation, once thought of as a quirky aspect of Eastern medicine, has entered mainstream Western healthcare. AARP reports that a 2006 study found transcendental meditation, the practice of silently repeating a word or phrase to calm and focus the mind, can improve blood pressure, insulin resistance and heart rate variability, thus protecting against heart disease. Other studies have shown that meditation may be useful in treating congestive heart failure, depression, chronic pain, psoriasis, anxiety and addiction. It may also ameliorate symptoms of menopause and multiple sclerosis.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 75 to 85 percent of seniors who live in elder care communities suffer from chronic pain. Those living at Sunrise Senior Living communities may suffer less, thanks to the regularly scheduled yoga, tai chi and meditation programs.