Hitting the Yoga Mat Together May Improve Quality of Life for Patients and Caregivers

A diagnosis of high grade glioma can bring about a number of symptoms, but a recent study found that yoga may be able to improve quality of life for this subset of brain cancer patients and their caregivers.
BY Brielle Urciuoli
PUBLISHED September 28, 2016
A diagnosis of high grade glioma (HGG) can bring on stress and side effects, not only for the patient, but also for their caregiver . In an effort to improve the overall well-being of patients with this type of brain cancer, researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center tested the feasibility of couples-based yoga for caregivers and patients with HGG who are undergoing radiation.

The single-arm study observed both symptoms and quality of life (QOL) in self-reported assessments that were taken at baseline and after completion of the program, which included up to 12 yoga sessions, usually conducted two or three times a week, right before or after their radiotherapy treatments.

While yoga has proved beneficial to the health and quality of life of patients with breast cancer, Kathrin Milbury Ph.D., author on the study, wanted to see what kind of results yoga and meditation would have on certain patients with brain cancer and their caregivers.

“I was interested in high grade gliomas because that is a patient population with high symptom burden, but there’s really not a whole lot of supportive care intervention out there,” Milbury said. “We know that caregivers are very vulnerable to symptom burden as well, particularly distress, fatigue and sleep disturbances.”

Milbury added that patients and caregivers can often have similar symptoms but with different causes. Patients are often fatigued as a side effect of radiation therapy, while caregivers feel the same due to the stress and long list of duties of caring for someone who is ill.

To combat these symptoms, the 60-minute yoga sessions included four main components: joint loosening with mindfulness training, postures (asanas) with deep relaxation techniques, breath energization (pranayama) with sound resonance and meditation/guided imagery.

“We structured the intervention for patients and caregivers on some of the guided imageries that were used specifically to address the issues of accepting uncertainty, coping and focusing on the connection the patient has with the family caregiver,” Milbury said.

The program emphasized the fact that it was important for the patients, who are typically on the receiving-end of the caregiving, to also contribute to the couple by being present and offering support. This, she said, is key to their well-being and QOL.

“We make it clear that the intervention is for both of them together,” Milbury said. “It’s actually for them to cope together through this cancer journey.”

By the end of the intervention, side effects s including psychological distress, sleep, fatigue and overall QOL were improved for both patients and caregivers. In fact, 33 percent rated the program as “useful” and 67 percent said that it was “very useful.”

However, not all aspects of QOL were significantly improved for the caregivers. Milbury suggested that this may be because the trial was single-arm without a control group and that side effects could have possibly gotten worse without the intervention.

Milbury and her team are currently working on a larger randomized control trial to get even more information on the effects of yoga on patients with difficult prognoses.

“Yoga is more than just stretching,” she said. “The mind-body connection, being able to regulate emotions through relaxation techniques, I think, is one of the key aspects. Also, the physical component of it is very helpful.”

Some patients even said they used the mindful breathing techniques taught in the intervention during radiotherapy to help cope with being in a confined space.

“We got very positive feedback,” said Milbury. “They definitely enjoyed participating together with their caregivers. It made them feel relaxed and helped them to cope.”
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