Meditation an ‘effective tool’ in treating brain trauma

Brain injuries can leave survivors with long-term damage to their concentration, patience and emotional control, but researchers are finding meditation may be the best medicine.

Janine Maitland, Audrey Devitt and Paula Rodgers of St. Joseph’s Health Centre conducted a study with 44 people with acquired brain injuries to determine whether “mindful” group meditation is effective.

In their findings, which they brought to a conference on brain injuries in Kingston yesterday, showed that patients in the program had lower depression, stress and anxiety levels.

“We see it being a very effective tool … and also very cost-effective,” said Maitland, senior research associate at St. Joseph’s in Hamilton.

Typically, patients with acquired brain injuries are treated with prescriptions, physiotherapy and counselling. Meditation is a tool that can be used when all else fails.

Devitt, St. Joseph’s director of outreach services, said that many patients in the trial had run out of options.

“Their medical practitioners have said that they have pla -teaued,” she said.

Acquired brain injuries include trauma injuries from strokes, aneurysms, tumours and trauma from car accidents, falls and sports.

Many people with such injuries can’t afford extensive traditional treatment.

“A lot of these things cost money and a lot of people don’t have insurance,” she said. For example, a fall while cycling may not provide you with insurance.

“It’s best to be in a car, really,” Devitt said.

Mindful meditation directs the patient to concentrate on their body through breathing exercises.

The researchers demonstrated a session at the conference by handing out raisins to the audience and directing them to slowly observe their qualities with eyes closed.

“Most people aren’t living in the moment. Everyone is thinking forward … or pondering and reminiscing. How many people ever are really focused on the moment?” Maitland said.

“If you can attend to the moment more thoroughly … it can impact everything in the future.”

After the meditation an audience member reported that the raisins tasted better than ever before.

“It teaches them to be more aware of their behaviour and their consequences,” Devitt said.

Though meditation has been seen to be effective, its integration into the health-care system is held back by lack of research.

“There really is a scarcity of research in North America.” Maitland said. They need more evidence in order to get funding to move forward.

“We know just from talking to everybody how effective it is and what impact it has on people’s lives,” she said.

“Within the next couple years we should have clinics,” Rodgers said.

Dawn Downy, program manager for Providence Care, said that she hopes to bring similar meditation to the Kingston area.

“We provide service to about 200 people a year,” she said. “I would hope maybe within the next year we could experiment with that.”

Fifty thousand Canadians sustain brain injuries each year, 18,000 of them in Ontario.

Maitland said it’s only a matter of time before their research is able to help a larger number of people.

“The word is spreading,” she said.

[Tyler Ball, The Whig-Standard]
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