“The older you get, the more it means.”
Bruce Springsteen, U.S. songwriter and performer
The older you get, the more it means. I’m now in my mid-thirties, and that quote, taken from a song introduction during one of Springsteen’s marathon concerts, is getting truer everyday. As someone who has seen about a third of my life through the eyes of a desperate, lonely, and lost drug addict and alcoholic, with two years spent in the state penitentiary thrown in for good measure, it’s like he was speaking those words directly to me.
The passage of my life that I’m referring to actually started me on a new journey, where I have encountered many tools and levels of support to keep my focus squarely on staying clean and sober – something I have successfully done now for over nine years.
One of these was to learn the art of mindfulness and to practise this activity every day. In drug and alcohol rehab, we learned that as we age, we naturally become more mindful of everything within us and around us, and learning how to recognize and accept what we feel and see, in a completely non-judgmental way, is one of the healthiest tools you can use to retain the focus you need.
Mindfulness: “The basic human ability to be fully present,
aware of where we are and what we’re doing,
and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
However, it was only when I truly understood the effect mindfulness can have, did I learn how it not only it beneficial for the mind and spirit, it has great benefits for the body too. I doubt Springsteen was actually referring to physical health when he said, “The older you get, the more it means,” but it fits perfectly, doesn’t it?
The aim of this article is to describe the lesser-known health benefits that mindfulness can bring, solid reasons as to why healthcare professionals today should consider its practice as something worth prescribing to their more senior patients.
A life riddled with the abuse of drugs and alcohol does wonders for temporary memory loss. However, those memories still surface again and again – although, and you can trust me on this, these resurfacing memories come back a little distorted. In fact, they lose their truth. However, as I began my mindfulness practice, I found that my memory became far more reliable – I was thinking more clearly, and retaining information that I learned far easier than ever before.
Mindfulness is a way to exercise your brain, and its vast potential, whatever your age. Practising mindfulness daily is a little like taking your brain to the gym for a light workout – the good thing is you don’t have to leave your lounge to do it. The importance of our personal memories cannot be understated, and mindfulness helps to retain these and provide the capacity to learn more.
Improves The Immune System
Working as steadily as it can, each and every day, is our body’s immune system. As we age, regardless of whether we are throwing pills and liquor down our throats, this line of physical defense slowly gets weaker, and so become more susceptible to ailments, like the common cold, or worse.
Did you know that there is evidence to show that the practise of mindfulness in tandem with meditation can actually improve the immune system of those who participate? A 2013 research study on the relaxation response showed that by undertaking these activities, the subjects’ levels of stress were reduced, and so their immune system became stronger, and more able to deal with biological reactions.
As we have established above, mindfulness reduces stress. Now, that’s a big thing in itself. Believe me, as a recovering addict, stress is one of the biggest triggers to a potential relapse, and, since practising mindfulness, the effect on my own stress levels, and my previously-depressed state of mind, has been nothing short of dramatic.
As healthcare professionals, nobody needs to tell you that stress significantly impacts your physical well-being, your heart rate and blood pressure particularly, as well as normal brain functions. However, prescribing medication to reduce this chemically is not always a viable option with more senior patients. Prescribing the practise of mindfulness, however, offers no complications, only a lessening of symptoms.
One of my best friends made in rehab was an old guy who had lived a seriously hard life. A former Marine, a victim of PTSD, who’d lost his family in a car crash while he was away in the Middle East, the clear root of his addiction. The lines on his face told a tragic story. Our friendship grew as we practised mindfulness together, easing our own personal stress and certainly helping him as part of his trauma treatment program. We both remain clean and sober now.
Improves The Digestive System
Again, as we age, our normal bodily functions lose efficiency at best. In addition, we are more susceptible to ailments and disease, and one of these areas is our digestive system. Fortunately, the practise of mindfulness and meditation can be a positive aid to your digestion, and there is much evidence to prove this.
The simple act of deep and controlled breathing, allowing the level of oxygen present in our blood to rise, and being circulated far more efficiently, promotes an equally more efficient digestion for senior patients.
Improves Sleep Patterns
On a personal level, after my detox, I fell in love with sleep again, just like when I was a kid. That feeling of waking refreshed and full of energy for the day ahead was something addiction stole from me. A good night’s sleep is really important whatever your age may be, but even more so when your years are against you.
The practise of mindfulness promotes much better sleep patterns, consistently. For our older generations, sleep is vital to ensuring a healthy body and mind. In addition, studies in chronic insomnia have found that mindfulness is a “viable treatment option” for patients with insomnia.
The More It Means…
So, how does all this sound – a senior patient now experiencing significant improvements in their memory, their immune system, their levels of stress, their digestive system, and their sleep pattern? Surely, introducing mindfulness has to be a more healthier option than prescribing a plethora of medications to cover all of the above.
A senior person’s twilight years shouldn’t leave them left in the dark. It should be a time of pure reflection, of peace, and of gratitude for what’s around them now and what they have enjoyed in the past. Mindfulness can be the key to making such a time one really worth living fully.
Do you have any questions or comments about the arguments presented above? Is mindfulness something you have advised in the past to senior patients? Please share your thoughts below – much appreciated.