Improving the quality of life for older adult caregivers through virtual mindfulness

Caregiving for a loved one can be stressful under any circumstances. What’s known as “caregiver burden” can lead to difficulties in many aspects of a caregiver’s life — not only emotionally, but financially and socially, as well.

In fact, a recent survey reports that 23% of caregivers say caregiving has worsened their own health, and 21% feel alone in the journey.

As life expectancy increases, caregivers — and the people they care for — are getting older, often leading to unique stressors. For example, it can be hard for a person who is making appointments for a loved one to remember to make appointments for his or her own health.

An older couple sits on a park bench looking at an iPad An older couple sits on a park bench looking at an iPad

In order to find ways to help support people experiencing caregiver burden, Optum and UnitedHealthcare collaborated with Moment Health (now part of Sanvello Health) to offer an interactive, 7-week virtual mindfulness program to discover whether it could be effective for caregiver support.

Upon completion of the program, interviews were conducted with 20 caregivers – all UnitedHealthcare Medicare members age 65 or older. The study asked participants to share their experiences in the program, including any observed impact on their lives as caregivers.

The study was grounded in an evidence-based approach called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The MBSR topics used were wide-ranging and nurturing, and included: practicing self-compassion, self-care, and learning to pause and reflect before reacting to stressful situations. Most participants reported a number of benefits immediately after participating in a session, including feeling calmer, having reduced anxiety and improved sleep.

Many also reported long-term benefits to their health, including greater empathy and compassion for themselves and others, new understanding of self-care, new coping skills for navigating relationships and overall greater mindfulness.

After completing the program, participants described a renewed commitment to reclaim personal time for themselves, and to continue their mindfulness practice.

“The findings from this study are encouraging,” said Janella Hudson, lead researcher for the study. “We know caregiver burden adversely affects older adults’ mental and physical health. Participants’ reports of improved self-care, self-compassion and resiliency are promising, and may translate into improved coping skills.” 

The good news is virtual mindfulness can be a useful option for caregivers who may be strapped for time. It can mean something as simple — but meaningful — as breathing exercises or practicing the skills that have already been learned in order to recenter one’s energy. If the barriers to accessing help are lowered, individuals are able to practice MBSR at their convenience.

Help is available. If you are a caregiver and are looking for resources to help you on your caregiving journey, visit