Leading caregiver wellness with ‘Mindfulness-based Dementia Care’ course

As the prevalence of dementia continues to grow, so does the prevalence of family caregivers. Family caregivers experience many unique challenges including lack of pay, the burden of providing care while oftentimes still working themselves, the emotional burden brought on by changes in family relationship dynamics, and more. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association Facts & Figures Report (2014), 61% of dementia caregivers suffer from high or very high emotional stress and 40% have symptoms of depression.

The Center’s Wellness Initiative specifically addresses the challenges faced by family caregivers of adults living with memory loss. The Initiative offers a variety of stress-resilience programs to prepare caregivers for the ever-changing responsibilities of caregiving. Uniquely, the Center’s Wellness Initiative facilitates an eight-week course called Mindfulness-based Dementia Care that is the only program of its kind for the dementia caregiver.

Mindfulness-based Dementia Care (MBDC) was created by Marguerite Manteau-Rao, LCSW, a personal friend and colleague of the Wellness Initiative’s, Laura Rice-Oeschger, LMSW. In 2014, the Center became the third location in the country to offer the MBDC course, and since has taken a lead role in not only facilitating but also growing the program both domestically and abroad through partnerships with the Presence Care Project. For example, in 2017, the Center became the first host location to train new facilitators in the MBDC program; this training included seven participants across three countries.

MBDC builds upon the practice of mindfulness, applying it specifically to the challenges and stresses faced in dementia care. While not all stress is inherently bad, there are stressors common in dementia caregiving that may become mentally draining, physically damaging, and emotionally overwhelming. Mindfulness offers invaluable resources and coping practices that can improve well-being and quality of life for both the caregiver themselves and the person in their care. Studies even suggest that mindfulness may lower anxiety, stress, depression, and caregiver burden, while increasing overall mental health, self-compassion, and social support.

Over the past four years, 100 family caregivers have participated in MBDC at the Center. A previous participant in the course shared the profound impact it’s had on their caregiving experience: “I feel this knowledge and experience is really the only way to successfully travel though this journey of caregiving.”

One of the biggest takeaways of the course is building caregiver confidence. One participant shared that “The transformation in my husband and in our relationship takes my breath away. He clearly feels safer. We are enjoying more shared experiences. This class feels like a gift that enriches both our lives and builds relationship no matter how the future unfolds.”

Rice-Oeschger summarizes the course: “It’s amazing to be able to hear of relationships transforming because of the wisdom in this program. Because of MBDC, caregivers are able to be more in tune with themselves, allowing them to see more clearly their partner’s needs. They become confident in moving through challenges because they can see the wisest choice. Not only do these skills minimize harm, they also increase compassion.”

In addition to MBDC, the Center’s Wellness Initiative also offers a monthly stress resilience program, Catching Your Breath, and a twice-a-year retreat, Caregiver Wellness Day. Wellness Initiative programs are possible because of generous donors to the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center.