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Many dementia carers suffer from sadness, anxiety, and physical ailments as a result of the stress of caring for a loved one.
Researchers are now investigating a new kind of caregiving treatment that aims to improve well-being while also reducing symptoms of caregiver depression. For the first time, researchers have conducted a clinical experiment using guided imagery and mindfulness techniques in an effort to help caregivers develop a more compassionate imagination.
For family carers, support groups are now the most common psychotherapeutic method. Researcher and director of Healthy Aging Studies at Massachusetts General Hospital Felipe A. Jain say, “Although support groups provide caregivers with useful information and an opportunity for them to share their experiences with each other, they are not effective for many people in managing the negative emotions associated with caring for a loved one with dementia”.
Caregiver well-being was shown to be higher among those who engaged in mentalizing imagery therapy than among those who attended a typical support group, according to Jain and his colleagues. Imagery therapy has also been shown to improve carers’ cognitive control and emotional regulation, based on early results from the research
In our study, we were able to demonstrate that there is an underlying neurological foundation for the gains observed by caregivers in the MIT [mentalizing imagery therapy] group,” explains Jain. “This discovery helps us understand how psychotherapies function and why it is so vital for carers to receive them. ” For the first time, MIT’s treatment has shown positive alterations in caregivers’ brain circuitry.”
Caregivers may find it challenging to respond to a family member with dementia whose behavior and feelings are so different from their own that it is impossible for them to relate. Self-blame and guilt may also be a problem for caregivers who are dealing with chronic stress.
According to Jain, “MIT teaches mindfulness and guided imagery methods to assist caretakers better comprehend the mind of their loved one and how they are behaving to that person.
Participants get a better understanding of their own emotional responses to difficult events and a greater sense of belonging to their communities and the natural world. Stress reduction and enhanced self-compassion are two other goals of the treatment. “This treatment pushes the limits of how we think about ourselves and connect with others and integrates fresh concepts on self and identity,” Jain explains.
Mentalizing imagery treatment or a support group was randomly allocated to 46 carers in the pilot trial. Each group had four 120-minute sessions each week. There was a guided imagery group that met once a week and did a variety of mindfulness activities, including low-impact stretching and breath-focused meditation. The group’s discussions revolved around the difficulties that each caregiver encountered, as well as the psychosocial aspects of caring.
Depression, anxiety, mindfulness, self-compassion, and overall well-being were all substantially improved in the mentalizing imagery therapy group compared to the support group. Self-reported depressive symptoms improved in both groups throughout the weekly group sessions they attended. However, only one week after treatment finished, the beneficial psychological effects of imagery therapy lasted, whereas those of the support group dissipated. In the imaging group, symptoms of depression were 41% lower than before treatment, but in the support group, symptoms were only 15% lower. Imagotherapy’s positive effects remained three months after treatment ended. Similarly, in the imagery group, happiness grew by 20%, but only by 5% in the support group towards the conclusion of the trial.
Mentalizing images were shown to have strong and large increases in connectively in the brain’s emotional regulation circuits, which were not seen in the support group. Depressive symptoms were reduced, and mindfulness was elevated when one’s sense of connection was strengthened.
In order to assist carers and their loved ones redefine their perspectives on their roles as caretakers, Jain created MIT as a “short-term intervention.” As the condition progresses, support groups are a long-term strategy to help carers cope with the stress. Both are required.”
A bigger clinical experiment is planned for this year that will examine if mentalizing imagery therapy can be successfully given through telehealth and cellphones so that caregivers may engage in the treatment from a distance.