A hot topic in our world today is the importance of mindfulness and mental health. We usually think of these methods as helpful ways to prevent disease. But, what if it can help the sick too?
A woman who couldn’t speak
Catherine is 60-year-old, African-American woman had survived a left-hemisphere stroke 14 years ago that affected her right side. She ended up with severe deficits on her right side and aphasia. She was right-handed, so you can only imagine how difficult it must be to suffer a stroke that affected the side you use the most!
Aphasia is a notoriously difficult thing to treat. It’s a condition where you have a hard time finding the words to say what you’re thinking. Catherine struggled for years to try and recover speech with the help of therapy. She went through all the traditional speech and language therapy services. But after 14 years of on and off training, nothing seemed to work.
Catherine decided to try meditation
One day, Catherine decided to take up meditation. She heard about how it helped people in other aspects of their lives, so she wanted to see if maybe it could help her. Suddenly, things started to look up! Researchers caught onto this and decided to watch her closely. They evaluated her carefully before and after her mindfulness training to try and see if there was any measurable benefit.
During a 5-day mindfulness meditation program, Catherine got both individual training and practice every day. Sessions were 30 minutes at a time and on the last day she practiced everything she learned on her own.
The idea of using mindfulness is really to help improve attention. It works by helping you redirect focus. Life can get overwhelming, especially for someone who had suffered a disabling stroke. Mindfulness teaches you to notice what you’re thinking about. Then, you learn to have better control of these thoughts in a healthy way. You do this by paying attention to your breathing, focusing on sensations in your body, and tuning in to your surroundings. Catherine’s mindfulness practice was modified for her. Her teacher made sure to help her through the process while speaking clearly and slowly as it can be difficult for an aphasia patient to follow.
In this video, one of the most well-known teachers of mindfulness in the USA, Jon Kabat-Zinn, explains the concept of mindfulness.
Luckily for Catherine, meditation helped with speaking too!
So what happened to Catherine? Researchers were delighted to find that she responded so well to meditation. She was able to speak better. She was able to explain things better and had an easier time finding words. Catherine was also using longer phrases and more words than before her meditation.
Meditation affected Catherine’s body too
Researchers also wanted to look at Catherine’s stress levels. They saw that her heart rate slowed down, and she seemed more relaxed. Her whole body rested better while she was meditating. They also decided to measure the cortisol level in Catherine’s blood. This is a hormone that gets produced when you’re excited or stressed out. For Catherine, the levels didn’t change after meditation. But since hormones take a long time for the body to adjust, we might see a drop in this stress hormone in the long run.
Catherine’s overall mental health flourished with mindfulness practice. Not only did her attention improve, but her impulsivity was better controlled too. These are all things we expect to get better with an attention exercise like meditation. Interestingly, her scores in other cognitive tests improved as well. Researchers saw that she was better at conflict resolution and orienting herself.
Mindfulness could help you
Though this is one person’s experience, we shouldn’t ignore all the potential benefits that mindfulness meditation can provide. Meditation isn’t just for people who are young and healthy! It can do extraordinary things for people suffering from a stroke. In Catherine’s case, we saw that mindfulness was able to help her with her aphasia, even when conventional therapies didn’t.
Anyone can meditate and practice mindfulness. You can pretty much do it anywhere, and you can do it at home for free. All you need is a little guidance from someone who understands your needs. Isn’t it time that we pay a little more attention to this treatment?
The lead author of this study was Jacqueline Laures-Gore, from the Communication Sciences & Disorders Program, at the Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia.