DANVILLE — If you’re a caregiver for a veteran, a new study from the University of Illinois has some good news: Mindfulness techniques can help relieve stress.
That’s the main finding of the year-long Veteran Caregiver Reducing Stress Time (VetCareReST) study. Several of the 23 participants were from Vermilion County, and underwent training at Danville Area Community College.
The purpose of the study was to see whether mindfulness training reduced perceived stress, worry, depressive symptoms and anxiety, according to Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, assistant professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences’ Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the U of I.
Mindfulness is often described as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment,” the study notes.
The study began two years ago when caregivers of veterans of any age were recruited to participate. Eligible individuals had to be at least 18 years old, provide unpaid care or support to a veteran, have no significant mental health conditions, no substance use, and be willing to participate in the free eight-week mindfulness training that met weekly for two hours and be willing to practice at home.
Twenty-three people met the criteria and all completed the project. Twelve were placed in the wait list control group, and received no treatment, while 11 received treatment.
Most of the participants were women, Lara-Cinisomo said. The participants’ average age was 58, and the veterans’ average age was 70.
The treatment group met once a week for eight weeks for mindfulness techniques, and they also practiced at home. The mindfulness training, valued at $250, was free to those selected. Also, everyone was compensated for completing pre- and post-assessments.
“There was a significant difference between mindfulness and the control group,” she said. “We saw improvement (lower levels) in stress, anxiety and worry in the mindfulness group. That’s what we were expecting.”
According to self-reports, those who received training improved their self-observing behaviors, were less judgmental and less reactive to things that bothered them, she said.
The control group, which could have pursued treatment on its own through therapy or online sites, for example, showed higher levels of stress after the wait period.
The study says: “Given these promising results, policymakers, health practitioners, and veteran-related programs should increase efforts to provide caregivers of veterans with mindfulness-based interventions to improve mental health outcomes.”
There about 5.5 million caregivers in the United States, and at least twice as many veterans — usually family members who provide unpaid care, according to the study.
Lara-Cinisomo has conducted research on spouses of active-duty service people and how they handle stress. This current study focused on caregivers of veterans from recent wars (who face challenges such as adapting to civilian and family life after service), and also older veterans from World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars.
She added, “To our knowledge, it’s one of the few studies that looks at this population. It’s the first study to test mindfulness for caregivers of veterans.”
Feedback from the participants was very positive, Lara-Cinisomo said. “This was a highly engaged group. They stuck to it and that speaks volumes.”
Standardized measures and self-reporting of symptoms helped determine the levels in both groups.
She also praised Danville for welcoming the study and DACC for providing a site for the local training. Training also was offered in Champaign.
Also involved in the study were Ellie Fujimoto, research coordinator at the U of I, and Ryan Santens, a trained instructor and PhD student, who conducted the mindfulness training.
This study was funded by a joint grant provided by the Chez Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education (http://woundedvetcenter.ahs.illinois.edu/ ) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
As for the future, Lara-Cinisomo said she will conduct follow-up studies to advance this line of research.
“Mindfulness is an effective intervention that helps improve caregivers’ mental health and can be sustained by participants at no additional cost, making it a cost-effective intervention,” she said.
To see the results of the study, go to https://link.springer.com/journal/12671/onlineFirst/page/1? And scroll down to see the article.
The study also appears in Mindfulness, which publishes the latest research findings on mindfulness https://www.springer.com/psychology/cognitive+psychology/journal/12671.