Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Grandmothers Reduce Stress by
Learning to Coordinate Breathing with Heart Rate
Researchers use biofeedback device to
relax grandmothers stressed by carrying for grandchildren
Oct. 8, 2013 – The number of
grandchildren being carried for by their grandmothers has shown a steady
increase over the last 20 years, as has the stress and depression of
these older women. Researchers think they may have found a way to
relieve some of this stress.
In a pilot study by Case Western
Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, 20
grandmothers were able to lower their stress levels with a biofeedback
device that tracks breathing patterns.
According to U. S. Census data, the
number of children living with their grandparents has increased 64
percent in the past 20 years. Prior studies at the Case Western Reserve
nursing school have found that many grandmothers suffer stress and
depression from having to serve as full-time child-care givers at this
stage in their lives.
Looking at ways to reduce such
negative factors, the nursing school’s Jaclene A Zauszniewski, PhD,
RN-BC, FAAN; Tsay-Yi Au, PhD, RN; and Carol Musil, PhD, RN, FAAN, tried
biofeedback techniques that focus on heart rate variability (HRV) to
reduce stress, negative emotions and depressive thoughts and help
grandmothers cope with the added responsibilities.
While the study was small, it
showed promise in that self-reported stress and negative thoughts were
reduced during and after using the device.
The researchers report their
findings in the article, “Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback in
Grandmothers Raising Grandchildren: Effects on Stress, Emotions and
Cognition,” in the special issue of Biofeedback from the
Association for Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback.
The researchers wanted the
grandmothers to become more aware of how their bodies react to stress to
help reduce the tension and associated health risks, such as high blood
pressure, heart disease and depression.
The grandmothers were recruited
with flyers in health centers, churches and businesses. The average age
of the women was 58 (ranging from 42 to 68) and average income was
$50,000. The study group was evenly divided racially by African
Americans and Caucasians and by educational level of those who have a
college degree and those who do not.
The grandmothers used the device at
home for four weeks. They were taught to insert their left index finger
into the sensor clip on the devise that detects their pulse rate and,
while doing so, to inhale and exhale slowly while observing waves on the
device’s screen. Thus, over time, they learn to coordinate their
breathing with their heart rate.
The women provided information
about their perceived stress, negative emotions and depressive thoughts
by questionnaire. Researchers then collected data from the device in
four face-to-face interviews, spaced six weeks apart.
The first significant improvement
came two weeks after using the device, and also at eight and 14 weeks.
The researchers suggest that the noticeable reduction in stress warrants
a larger study.
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