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Researchers study mindfulness for beating anxiety and depression after stroke

16 March 2017

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers are investigating how a mindfulness course, a form of meditation focused on being more aware of the present moment, may be adapted to help beat anxiety and depression in people who have had a stroke.

Everyone’s experience of stroke is different, but for many people it feels like they’ve lost the life they had before, and may lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a standardised, eight-week course, often recommended by the NHS and GPs, which teaches people mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques to help them to self-manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Skills taught during the course are practised at home for longer-term wellbeing. However, many people do not complete a whole course of mindfulness sessions or find it difficult to practise at home.

GCU’s Dr Maggie Lawrence will lead a 10-month study, funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO), to make adaptations to the standard course that would encourage more people who have had a stroke to stick with the sessions, with a greater impact on wellbeing.

Dr Lawrence previously published a systematic review of the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions in the International Journal of Stroke. This found that mindfulness might be effective after stroke, but most of the research studies noted that people found it difficult to commit to the full MBSR course. Given the range of issues that people may have to cope with after stroke, including physical and psychological problems, communication problems, and chronic fatigue, the research team applied to the CSO for funding to analyse whether a version of MBSR that took these consequences of stroke into account might be more acceptable and practical for people who have had a stroke.

The new project, named HEADS: UP - Helping Ease Depression and Anxiety after Stroke, will comprise mindfulness taster sessions and focus groups with stroke survivors, their families, and other experts to make changes to the standard course. These changes could include adjustments to the length of a session, the overall length of the course, and whether stroke survivors are able to do some of the physical actions such as the mindfulness ‘body scan’.

Dr Lawrence will work with a research team comprising Dr Helen Mason and Professor Jo Booth from GCU, a stroke survivor and a family carer, and researchers from the University of Glasgow, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Stirling and Edinburgh Napier University.

Dr Lawrence said: “Although mindfulness has been shown to be helpful to people suffering from anxiety and depression, they may not stick with the whole course. People who have had a stroke may experience problems such as paralysis or chronic fatigue, which could make learning the body scan or relaxation techniques more difficult. Through this project, we will look at what is taught and how it is taught, and make changes to the standard course based on the evidence.

“We will try to identify changes that will help stroke survivors follow the whole course and practise their new skills at home, and use them to self-manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is a fabulous opportunity to continue the work started during my Stroke Association Senior Research Training Fellowship, which finished last year.”