Published by admin at November 2, 2015

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Baycrest Health Sciences

Baycrest Clinicians and Researchers Team Up to Study Mindfulness Training for Older Adults

Mindfulness is a term that’s used a lot, often in lifestyle magazines and articles about coping with the stresses of modern life. But mindfulness is more than just a buzzword or a fad. Scientific research has established that mindfulness training programs can provide psychological and physical benefits.

Baycrest Clinicians and Researchers Team Up to Study Mindfulness Training for Older Adults

A collaborative project between the Mood and Related Disorders Clinic and Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences is evaluating how mindfulness can help seniors cope with the challenges and changes of getting older.

“In our clinic we saw a need for interventions to help our clients cope more effectively with stresses that could be contributing to their symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Janet Murchison, a Baycrest occupational therapist. “As we get older we all face changes in health, functional abilities as well as social and environmental losses such as retirement, loss of a driver’s licence, loss of loved ones. These changes are stressful and, for some individuals, increase their risk of suffering from affective disorders such as depression and anxiety.”

Learning to Cope with Stress

Murchison and her colleagues Cindy Grief, a psychiatrist at Baycrest, Nasreen Khatri, clinician scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and Norman Farb, former postdoctoral fellow at the Rotman Research Institute, now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, designed a pilot study to investigate using mindfulness to help clients with mild to moderate anxiety and depression.

“Mindfulness programs aim to help individuals learn to cope with stress by bringing greater awareness to the present moment. The approach encourages the exploration of thoughts, feelings and reactions to everyday experiences in an accepting, curious and non-judgmental way,” says Murchison.

Study Shows Mindfulness Makes a Difference for Older Patients

Murchison delivered an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for 22 older adults. Assessments and interviews measured participants’ depressive symptoms, cognitive function, quality of life, and gathered data on their perceptions of the program, how they defined mindfulness, stressors in their lives, their goals for participating in the program, and obstacles to their mindfulness practice.

“In this study we coded qualitative interviews with our participants to understand the factors that contribute to quantified improvements in mood symptoms. We wanted to be able to contribute new data on best practices for delivering this program in an older adult population,” says Farb.

Dr. Janet Murchison

Learm more from Dr. Murchison about the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in this video

The team found that participants showed significantly reduced depressive symptoms after the pilot program but no treatment-related changes to cognitive function or quality of life measures. The qualitative analysis revealed that participants found the program most effective in addressing stress related to family issues and general negative moods.

Holistic, Person-Centred Care

Data are now being analyzed on a second larger study and in the meantime Baycrest will be offering eight-week group mindfulness programs this fall and spring.

“This project is a great example of clinicians and researchers working together to enhance evidence-based care that’s holistic and person-centred,” says Grief.

The research was made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Wood Foundation and with the collaboration of Baycrest’s Mood and Related Disorders Clinic, The Rotman Research Institute and its Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied and Evaluative Research Unit. A poster was presented at the Canadian Association on Gerontology conference and the study is being prepared for publication.


Baycrest is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog. To learn more about what’s needed to support Ontario’s health research enterprise, download our Policy Platform.