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Study: ‘Mindfulness’ May Help Moms Reduce Caregiver Stress


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Christine Beatty, center, is mom to Megan, left, who has Down syndrome and ADHD, and Mia, who has cerebral palsy. Researchers say services are needed to help mothers of children with developmental disabilities manage their own mental health so that they can be good long-term caregivers. (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times/MCT)

Christine Beatty, center, is mom to Megan, left, who has Down syndrome and ADHD, and Mia, who has cerebral palsy. Researchers say services are needed to help mothers of children with developmental disabilities manage their own mental health so that they can be good long-term caregivers. (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times/MCT)

Just six treatment sessions designed to help moms of kids with developmental disabilities manage their stress can go a long way toward reducing depression and anxiety, researchers say.

Parents of children with developmental disabilities often experience greater stress than moms and dads of typically-developing kids. Nonetheless, most interventions target the needs of their children with disabilities exclusively.

Now, researchers say more attention ought to be paid to the unique needs of these parents.

In a trial of two treatment programs, Elisabeth Dykens of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development and her colleagues found that weekly sessions with trained peer mentors could help moms conquer their stress and, in turn, interact more constructively with their children with disabilities.

For the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, 243 mothers of children with developmental disabilities were randomly assigned to participate in one of two interventions.

Some parents took part in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program which included breathing exercises, deep-belly breathing, meditation and gentle movement. Others participated in a program called positive adult development that focused on exercises promoting gratitude, forgiveness, grace and optimism in order to temper emotions like guilt, worry and pessimism.

Both interventions were led by other mothers of children with disabilities who received four months of training on the curriculums.

At the outset, assessments showed that 85 percent of the mothers had elevated stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent had anxiety disorders. After completing a half-dozen, hour-and-a-half sessions, mothers in both treatment groups experienced less stress, anxiety and depression while reporting better sleep and life satisfaction. The moms also had fewer dysfunctional parent-child interactions, the study found.

Moms in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program improved most significantly, researchers said, though parents in both groups continued to see improvements even six months after the treatment ended, researchers said.

“The well-being of this population is critically important,” Dykens, the study’s lead author, said pointing to the high prevalence of children with developmental disabilities and the many adults who continue to live at home with their parents. “We have a looming public health problem on our hands.”

Researchers said they are planning to conduct a similar study looking at the impact of these peer-led interventions for fathers of children with developmental disabilities.

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Comments (13 Responses)

  1. miss says:

    I suppose its like lamaze is supposed to make labor not hurt.

  2. Rosita Whittaker says:

    Exercise, exercise!! Healthy eating!! Positive thinking!!

  3. Angela says:

    It is about time. We are expected to be super parents. Getting respite and/or stress reduction is much needed. These parents often don’t have time to think of themselves.

  4. Karen says:

    Great idea…now what to do with the information? Who will provide this service for parents and how will it be paid for?

  5. Karen says:

    Angela, you ARE a super parent:) And Miss, I actually found Lamaze very effective in controlling my response to labor pain, not take it away. That would be the goal of this kind of training as well.

  6. Dr. Kelly D. Schaffer says:

    What a worthy endeavor. From divorce to suicide, rates are higher for parents of children with disabilities. Families as a whole stand to benefit. The need to support families has long been recognized by providers. The action to study the provision is commendable.

  7. Sharon says:

    I’m curious who watched the kids while the Moms were participated in this study. Generally, that is a very big part that contributes to the stress–particularly if you have a child who wanders or needs constant supervision. It sounds like a good idea but so does providing appropriate supports for the child.

  8. Cindy Syx says:

    My stress comes from not being able to leave my child with someone I can trust. My child is 16 yr. old and I can count on 1 hand how many times he has been left with another person – other than his Daddy. The screenings done for respite care and training is very lacking in our area. People need to be sure that their kids are safe with people they leave in charge of their child, otherwise, like in my case, it just ADDS to the stress instead of relieving it.

  9. Hardy Griffin says:

    Family is the only “Precious” asset we have but family does not come cheap, and I don’t mean just financially– emotionally, demanding, misunderstanding, etc. etc. So, for the parents bearing the responsibility, they must first take care of themselves to be able to take care of the family.

  10. Heidi says:

    Stress is a fact of life for single moms raising children with PDD-NOS. And the need for trustworthy care and help is monumental. I LOVE my child with all my heart but often find myself wondering “What if..?”
    Where will this study go? I can’t afford another expense but know I need some help. I hardly have the time, but know I need to take it for myself. And who is going to care for my daughter while I’m there? Studies like these are useless if they aren’t used to develop programs to help parents.

  11. susan collins says:

    I know what stress is and I control my thoughts as much as possible….I have had my son for over 15 years on my own and we have gone through a lot of rough roads together….I guard my time alone, do what I can to take that time and make it work for me…it can get lonely at times, but is serves me well. I enjoy my son also…those special times when there is no stress, it is all so worth it. Life is busy, life is happy, and we are thankful everyday. I think the key to living is having faith, and we have faith in GOD….life does not always go the way we want, but when keeping the prospective in your life, the things that matter, you can get through your days. I stress to my son, that every day is a blessing, everyday is a new day….keep thoughts protected, and keep the negative out. When the negative happens, we can get through it by loving thoughts of how we are going to phrase our words about the negative. My son never ceases to amaze me by what he has learned.

  12. Martha says:

    The most helpful program would be one that provides parents with the services they so desperately need: professional child care, trustworthy respite, proper equipment, reliable transportation, and affordable, suitable housing. My guess is a lot of our stress would be reduced if we didn’t have to worry about those issues.

  13. Nana says:

    Are there any parents out there who’s greatest stress comes NOT so much from their child with a disability, but instead from all of the “support” entities? I tell you, my son is an incredibly sweet and loving child who happens to have developmental disability that requires a lot of care and support. But my life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to fight for his education (IEP), fight for more therapy because it’s good for him, or defend our status as a family to government social workers just so he can get services. For me, it’s the fighting and defending related to his disability that knocks the wind out of me. I’d give anything to take my family and run away from society. But the sad truth is that in the end, he needs them, so I have no choice. I would love support for us as parents in this respect.

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