Focusing on a single word might improve nursing home residents' quality of life

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An affordable, easily implemented relaxation technique could improve nursing home residents' psychological well-being. It also could potentially boost their immune systems, according to recently published findings.

Unlike other relaxation methods, “Benson's technique” does not involve muscle engagement and release, making it a good approach for frail nursing home residents, the investigators explained. The technique was described in a 1975 book by Herbert Benson, M.D. It involves being in a quiet setting, assuming a comfortable posture and focusing attention on a repeated word or phrase. In the nursing home study, conducted in Spain, the repeated word was “dos” — “two” in English.

The study involved 30 residents. One group did hour-long sessions of Benson's technique five days a week for two weeks, while the control group did not participate. Those that did the relaxation technique reported a “decrease in negative affect, psychological discomfort and symptom perception” and higher quality-of-life scores at a three-month follow-up. The control group did not show psychological improvements or have enhanced quality of life “at any of the assessment points,” the investigators found.

The residents who took part in the relaxation sessions also displayed “modulated immune parameters,” such as lymphocyte populations, the study authors wrote. The immune system effects were not as pronounced as the psychological ones, but prior research has linked psychological well-being with immune system strength, the authors noted.

Further study is needed, but Benson's technique “is an easy and economical intervention,” and its daily practice could “offer medium and long-term benefits” to nursing home residents, the researchers concluded.

The study authors were affiliated with a variety of institutions in Alicante, Spain, including the University of Alicante and the University of Miguel Hernandez. Full findings appear in BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine.