Matthew Leach

Improving the health and wellbeing of community dwelling carers of people with dementia - a randomised controlled trial of structured mediation training

Matthew Leach headshot
2012 AADRF Project Grant
Project Snapshot

The impact of dementia on family caregivers is substantial. In financial terms, carers may experience loss of earnings, either from reduced working hours or relinquished employment. Carers of people with dementia also report high levels of stress, social isolation, sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety and impaired cognitive performance, as well as reduced quality of life. Some complementary therapies, specifically relaxation therapies, have demonstrated promising effects in the management of a variety of stress-related conditions, including anxiety. The relaxation technique selected for this study, Transcendental Meditation® (TM), has been selected by the research team as having potential to reduce stress levels and improve the quality of life of dementia caregivers. Carers enrolled in the clinical trial will be randomly assigned to twelve weeks of TM training or group support. Participants will, in addition, be required to complete a series of short tests at the beginning and end of the trial, and twelve weeks after trial completion (follow-up). This will enable the researchers to better understand whether trained meditation practices can improve important outcomes relevant to dementia caregivers, including quality of life, mood, and the ability to process, understand and remember information.

Detailed Project Summary

Background: Dementia is a prevalent, generally irreversible syndrome, characterised by progressive decline in global cognitive ability and increasing dependence on others for activities of daily living. The main providers of this care in Australia are family caregivers. Whilst caring for a family member with dementia has its advantages, it can severely affect the health and wellbeing of the caregiver. Building on growing clinical interest in the capacity for Transcendental Meditation® (TM; a form of relaxation therapy) to reduce stress and anxiety in healthy workers, this study examines whether similar improvements could be experienced by dementia caregivers.

Aim: To ascertain whether a TM program can improve psychological stress, quality of life, affect and cognitive performance of community-dwelling carers of dementia sufferers.

Study design: Pilot prospective, single-centre, randomised controlled trial with two parallel arms.

Outcomes: Primary outcomes include health-related quality of life and stress. Secondary outcomes include affect, cognitive performance, cost-utility and study feasibility. Outcomes will be assessed at baseline, week 12 (post-intervention) and week 24 (follow-up).

Population: Community-dwelling carers of persons with diagnosed dementia, residing in metropolitan Adelaide.
Interventions: Participants will be randomly assigned to a nineteen-session TM training program or twelve-session group support program for a period of twelve weeks.

Publications and Presentations resulting from award

Journal articles

Leach MJ. Francis A. Ziaian T. (2013) Improving the health and wellbeing of community-dwelling carers of dementia sufferers – study protocol of a randomised controlled trial of structured meditation training. J Altern Complement Med.

Where are they now?

Dr Leach is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of South Australia.