According to a study published in Neurology, people who took an 8-week class in mindfulness meditation training reduced their fatigue and depression and improved overall quality of life compared to people with MS who received only usual medical care. The positive effects continued for at least 6 months.
“People with MS must often confront special challenges of life related to profession, financial security, recreational and social activities, and personal relationships, not to mention the direct fears associated with current or future physical symptoms and disability. Fatigue, depression and anxiety are also common consequences of having MS.” study author Paul Grossman, PhD, of the University of Basel Hospital in Switzerland, stated in a press release. “Unfortunately, the treatments that help slow the disease process may have little direct effect on people’s overall quality of life, fatigue or depression. So any complementary treatments that can quickly and directly improve quality of life are very welcome.”
For the study, 150 people with mild-to-moderate MS were randomly assigned to receive either the 8-week meditation training or only usual medical care for MS. The class focused on mental and physical exercises aimed at developing nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, or mindfulness. The training included weekly classes, plus one all-day retreat and 40 minutes of homework assignments each day.
“MS is an unpredictable disease,” Grossman stated. “People can go for months feeling great and then have an attack that may reduce their ability to work or take care of their family. Mindfulness training can help those with MS better to cope with these changes. Increased mindfulness in daily life may also contribute to a more realistic sense of control, as well as a greater appreciation of positive experiences that continue be part of life.”
Participants in the mindfulness program showed good attendance rates (92%) and reported high levels of satisfaction with the training. Furthermore, few (5%) dropped out of the course before completion. Those who went through the mindfulness program improved in nearly every measure of fatigue, depression and quality of life, while those who received usual medical care declined slightly on most of the measures. For example, those with mindfulness training reduced their depressive symptoms by more than 30% compared to those with no training.
Improvements among mindfulness participants were particularly large for those who showed significant levels of depression or fatigue at the beginning of the study. About 65% of participants showed evidence of serious levels of depression, anxiety or fatigue at the start of the study, and this risk group was reduced by a third at the end of training and 6 months later.