Friday, October 12, 2012

Launching Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care at UCSF

'Mindfulness' and 'dementia', two words to do with mind:

dementia, from Latin word demens, which means 'without mind'

Mindfulness and dementia are not just connected in words. Mindfulness also happens to be a key element of successful dementia care, working on two fronts: 1) to reduce caregiver's stress, 2) to help the caregiver be present for the person in their care. Facts gathered by the Alzheimer's Association show the extraordinary stress suffered by most family caregivers:

• 61 percent of dementia caregivers suffer from high emotional stress.
• 33 percent report symptoms of depression.
• 43 percent experience high physical stress.
• 75 percent are concerned about maintaining their health.
• Dementia caregivers are more likely to have adverse physiological changes such as high levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, increased hypertension, coronary heart disease.
• In the last year of their loved one's life, 59 percent feel they are on duty 24 hours a day.

This goes on for an average of 4 to 8 years post-diagnosis. It is no wonder 72 percent of caregivers express relief after their loved ones die. For professional caregivers and health care providers, the stress is also intense and can lead to burnout. 

Until recently, most mindfulness-based approach to dementia care referred to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for dementia caregivers. Having observed numerous times the unique challenges as well as mindfulness practice opportunities in dementia care, I realized the need for a mindfulness-based program specially tailored to dementia caregiving. Hence began the Presence Care Project, a non-profit initiative aimed at promoting a new form of dementia care training. In the Presence Care approach,  mindfulness, informed by experiential understanding of the person with dementia, becomes the foundation upon which a caregiver can rest, moment-to-moment, day after day, during the long journey of dementia. UCSF OSHER Center for Integrative Medicine has now taken on this new approach and recently launched its new Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care (MBDC) program.

MBDC builds upon the now very well proven model of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR),  and combines solo mindfulness practices, interactive mindful care practices, lectures, and group sharing. Throughout, aspects of mindfulness practice and dementia care are interwoven. The emphasis is on practice during and between classes. The end goal is for participants to experience a radical shift in attitude from mostly doing and reacting, to being skillfully present for themselves and the person in their care. MBDC is appropriate for the whole range of persons involved in dementia care: family and friend caregivers, professional caregivers, elder care professionals, nurses, doctors, and other health care providers. 

MBDC rests on this central premise: mindfulness, that which helps dementia caregivers reduce their stress, is also what can help them provide the best care for the person with dementia. 

The first series of 8-week classes is starting next week and will be taught by myself and Dr. Kevin Barrows, physician and director of mindfulness programs at the OSHER Center. 


  1. I am letting several people know about your blog and the course. Thank you for both!

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  3. It is great to see someone take personal suffering and use it to help others.
    Congratulations, Marquerite

  4. I learned a lot on MBDC program and the importance and role of mindfulness in dementia caregivers. Thanks for sharing an informative post.

  5. Thanks for sharing this post about the emotional side of caregivers of seniors with dementia.Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for dementia caregivers is a possible solution.The right nursing home can impart training on this aspect.Dementia care Schuylkill County