Transcendental Meditation and Depression

According to a report in the Independent today, a research study has shown that transcendental meditation could be effective in treating depression in older adults.

Two studies of more than 100 patients at risk of heart disease showed that those who practised the technique experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms of up to 48 per cent. Depression increases the risk of a heart attack even at moderate levels.

Sounds positive and  Gary Kaplan, the associate professor of neurology at New York University is quoted as saying ‘Any technique not involving extra medication in this population is a welcome addition.’


The only caveat is that the research itself comes from the Maharashi University of Management in Iowa which was founded by the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi. Hmm. Although the article explains other universities were also involved in the research study, I wonder if that is enough to allay the feelings of bias. It seems all a little too convenient.

But I doubt very much it does harm and may well be useful but I wonder if it is a general meditation and well-being/awareness kind of use – which may be cheaper to provide – or something that is particular only to transcendental meditation which would require specifically trained practitioners –  at no small cost… especially as there have been concerns (as is raised in the Independent article) about the cost of training processes.

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Are Social Work Lecturers out of touch?

This is a question which was raised by the Social Work Taskforce report and challenged by said lecturers in a Community Care article after the report suggested that there is an element of being ‘out of touch with current practice’.

When I was studying, and I’m going back roughly 10 years, there was a feeling that some – and by no means all – of the lecturers were trying to take a side-step away from direct practide as a concerted effort to free themselves from some of the day to day practide.

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Some unrealistic models were employed and the way we were taught certain issues did not relate to what we were learning from our placements.

It seems that this is still the case to a certain extent. Perhaps it is a feeling, from the ‘front-line’ that it is a ‘easy way out’ to revert to reams of research about issues that barely relate to some of the day to day practicalities and situations that are dealt with.

I know that my ex-university has made a step of taking on part-time lecturers who work in direct practice in the ‘other part’ of their jobs. I know because I’ve come across a few with their ‘social work practitioner’ hats on and we have chatted about their lecturing roles. It seems like a good way to inject some verve into the university teaching structures. From what I hear too, other universities are picking this model up which seems a little of the ‘best of both worlds’.

Sometimes from the front-line, it can seem as if some people are just too keen to get away from direct client experience as soon as they can – whether this is by taking a managerial post or by hiding behind the robes of academia.

I have always worked along the principle that I would not ask someone to do something that I am not willing to do for myself. It’s one of those lessons I picked up by doing the hands-on care work in a residential care home. I had more respect for those lecturers who have been through the mill and ‘served their time’ in social work teams for more than a couple of years, regardless of their current practice.

I don’t think direct and relevant practice experience is necessary in all modules or study areas. There are some parts of social work that don’t change and some that require a more academic base but I think a better course would have input from practitioners, even if it is on a visiting basis.

Social work as an academic discipline is very different from history, politics or philosophy. The motivation to study and to affect change in society is a key influencer in the development of the profession as a whole. I wonder if sometimes desk-based research can be seen as divorced from practice and that is why there is this divide.

Perhaps more integration of research into practice would be a way for front-line practitioners to see the benefits of engaging with university Social Work departments. For all I see it, and this is with a desire to engage as much as possible, any conferences, papers and research is delivered within and among the academic communities with little thought to how it might be disseminated outwards to the local authority offices and departments staffed with overworked, stressed workers who barely have a chance to read directly relevant proposals (New Horizons – which I have been carrying around in  my bag for a few days in an attempt to find some time to read!) let alone to take measure of the ‘research’ that takes place in these institutions.

That is why the lecturers can seem have a stymied view of practice.. it can seem a little like looking up into an ivory tower where knowledge shifts around from institution to institution in an attempt to inflate their egos and research budgets but if nothing filters down to direct practice, what is the worth in a discipline like Social Work.

Avoiding Alzheimer’s

A couple of related articles I came over at the weekend which are linked in a way that they both refer to delaying the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The BBC reports on a study which shows that longer schooling ‘cuts dementia’. The link is made between the extension of the school leaving age and the prevalence of dementia so that those who left school at 15 fare better than those who left at 14 etc.

Writing in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition, the researchers say “The increase in educational levels that we observed is consistent with changes in the mandatory school leaving age in England.”

Other factors including fewer heart attacks, increased prescription of drugs to reduce high blood pressure, fewer people smoking and improvements in early life nutrition are also likely to have had an effect on the cognitive abilities of the 2002 group.

image Sciu3asteveo at Flickr

I am no scientist but I’d figure the latter comments are as relevant if not more than an extra year of schooling.

It is apparent from a lay view anyway, that generally those who have longer experiences of the educational system tend to be able to mask some of the symptoms of dementia for longer perhaps, after all, one of the key questions we ask in conjunction with the MMSE (Mini-Mental State Examination) refers to what age the particular individual left school.

I wonder if it is more about the generally greater awareness of what is and isn’t good for us (i.e. smoking) that leads to, at least a reduction in vascular dementia.

In fact

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society said: “Whilst we have a lot of really good evidence on healthy lifestyles and the fact that they can decrease risk of dementia, there isn’t enough evidence on education and dementia to draw any conclusions.

“We know conditions such as diabetes and obesity are on the rise and that they increase people’s risk of dementia – unfortunately this may have the opposite effect. “

Meanwhile, the Healthcare Republic reports that a people should be encouraged to eat more oily fish and omega 3 as a study carried out on mice has shown that this supplement has increased their cognitive functioning. I’m trying not to imagine how cognitive functioning in mice is measured because this is a serious research project..

Professor John Harwood, from the University of Cardiff, said research had shown that increasing dietary intake of omega-3 could halve the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

‘We are currently carrying out studies in mice that have been fed a diet enriched with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the active ingredient found in omega-3,’ he said.

‘The mice on the DHA diet did better in cognitive tests compared with mice that were not on the enriched diet. We are working on the hypothesis that this is down to the anti-inflammatory properties of DHA.’

Professor Harwood told GP that patients should be encouraged to consume omega-3, in the form of oily fish, from early age.

‘This is something that patients can do relatively easily and cheaply and should help to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Omega-3 has clear benefits in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and arthritis, so it cannot do any harm to increase your intake.’

I’m happy to go with that as a conclusion – basically it can’t do any harm and might possibly do some good.

image jem at Flickr

Fish for dinner, I think.

Lest We Forget

Yesterday was World Alzheimer’s Day. Events around the world were held to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and it’s impact. Some countries are holding study days, others picnics and walks. Different ways of drawing attention to the disease and pushing it into the public consciousness.

I know I am a day late but I thought I’d recognise it by sharing some of the links that I have collected that are related to Alzheimer’s. Some are personal blogs, others are resource or research blogs. Some sites that share information, others that share news.

Hopefully there will be something among them that will prove useful. I know I have found them helpful, personally.  There are many more resources ‘out there’ and I make no attempt at comprehensiveness!

Some don’t fit neatly into my categories so there is some wiggle room there.

image *Micky at Flickr

Personal Blogs

Alzheimer’s Team

Fading From Memory

Wit’s End

Monday’s with Mother – An Alzheimer’s Story

As We Lived Before

Resource/Information Blogs

Forget Memory


The Myth of Alzheimer’s

The Tangled Neuron

Alzheimer’s Notes

Mothering Mother and More

Resource Sites

Alzheimer’s Society

Alzheimer’s Research Trust

Fisher Centre for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation

Alzheimer’s Association

I’m sure that there’s a wealth of information ‘out there’ that I have missed and if anyone has any suggestions, I’d welcome them. Of course, it is important to remember that Alzheimer’s is one kind of dementia – but it is by far the best known.

Alzheimer’s Disease International has developed a charter to promote the awareness of Alzheimer’s worldwide. Go and sign – it doesn’t take long! They have also released a short film to accompany it.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas – Do not go gentle into that good night

Inside Alzheimer’s

There is an interesting article published by Geriatrics entitled Does Alzheimer’s really exist?. It consists of an interview with two authors of a book called The Myth of Alzheimer’s.

I thought it raised some crucial points. Of course, biologically, Alzheimer’s exists and that isn’t the issue that is being made, but the book seems to try to approach the onset and development of Alzheimer’s from a different angle.

Rather than focusing on the scientific search for a cure, they emphasis the need to look at ways in which the development of Alzheimer’s can be managed within a sociological, cultural and community framework.

One of the authors,  Dr Whitehouse, states

‘Instead of asking ourselves, “What drug should I prescribe”? we should be asking, “How can I help my patient stay alive, enjoy a good quality of life and remain engaged in society”? We have medicalized aging to an extreme degree.’

3d molecular spacefill of Donepezil

Image via Wikipedia (donezipil)

It seems like they are carrying out a lot of studies related to how older people with Alzheimer’s interact and what kind of interactions benefit them and in what ways.

I have to say, it was a heartening and inspiring interview and I thought it was a key approach to take as often we work, within our service, in a psycho-social model but sometimes it feels that we are battling against a tide of medication (which, don’t get me wrong, has its place but not by any means exclusively).

I sometimes feel frustrated that age has so many negative connotations in our society. It is not seen necessarily as a part of the life as a whole or the aged, confused individual as a part of who they were, are and will be.

Daniel George, the other author, writes

‘We are all going to grow older. We are all going to die. That may sound somewhat negative, but it is reality, and it carries a message of hope. No matter what we do, we can’t fix all the problems of aging. But we can foster a sense of solidarity. We are all in this boat together. And we can’t throw anyone overboard just because they’re unfortunate enough to be labeled with a mental illness such as AD.’

In a society that sometimes seems to eager to throw those that don’t fit the ‘model’, overboard, it is good to see the work being done.

Dr Whitehouse and Mr George continue to update their blog in relation to their research and ongoing methods. I’ve found it useful to keep track of.