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Innovative new apps may prevent stress, anxiety and sleep difficulties

Researchers are digging into the trainable capacity for conscious presence, allowing older adults to partake in daily mindfulness routines.
Researchers are digging into the trainable capacity for conscious presence, allowing older adults to partake in daily mindfulness routines. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)


Can practicing mindfulness enrich the lives of seniors? In a groundbreaking health technology initiative, individuals aged 65 and above are being invited to evaluate and enhance meditation apps designed to combat stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.


Researchers at KTH are digging into the trainable capacity for conscious presence, allowing older adults to partake in daily mindfulness routines within the comfort of their homes over a three-week period. Guided by a mobile app, participants engage in meditation exercises tailored to cultivate mental well-being.


 
 

Mindfulness, a practice linked to various benefits for mental health, involves focusing on the present moment through meditation techniques, harnessing the senses and controlled breathing to manage stress, anxiety, and pain.


The emphasis on older demographics is strategic. With age often comes an array of health challenges, particularly concerning mental well-being, as noted by Sanna Kuoppamäki, research leader and associate professor at the Division of Health Informatics and Logistics.


Kuoppamäki states, “The efficacy of mindfulness has already been studied - our aim is to identify the optimal technical platform for implementing this approach among older adults.”


 
 

Unique Challenges


Many existing apps are not tailored to older users, and crafting an app suitable for this demographic presents distinct challenges.


“Older individuals may encounter specific hurdles when engaging with an app. However, it's crucial to recognize that they aren't necessarily seeking simpler technology, as commonly presumed.


 

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Research suggests that age-appropriate apps are beneficial, but adaptation must be carefully considered,” explains Kuoppamäki.


The app's development, rooted in Zen Buddhism's mindfulness meditation method, traces back to a psychology researcher in Gothenburg and was introduced to the Western world by American professor Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s.


 
 

During brief five-minute sessions, participants follow guided meditations focusing on breath awareness or addressing particular emotions like empathy and self-compassion.

Limited Impact


(LEFT) Sanna Kuoppamäki, research leader and associate professor at the Division of Health Informatics and Logistics and (RIGHT) Lucy McCarren, PhD student in the project, (CREDIT: UCL)


Participants are encouraged to provide feedback on their experiences and suggest improvements to the app.


“It empowers them to shape similar apps, aligning with our objective to create the most effective tool possible for older individuals interested in mindfulness," adds Sanna Kuoppamäki. However, she underscores that mindfulness exercises have their limitations.


 
 

“Anxiety and worry are multifaceted issues. We don't expect the mobile app to eradicate severe mental health symptoms. Nevertheless, it can function as a preventive measure, mitigating certain symptoms.”



Integration of Digital AI Assistant


In subsequent phases, researchers plan to integrate a digital voice AI assistant into the app, capable of answering queries and following instructions. Lucy McCarren, a PhD student in the project, highlights the advantages of an interactive app.


“It will offer a more personalized service. Depending on the individual's mood, engaging in dialogue with the AI service could offer guidance on the most suitable meditation practices.”


One of the research goals is to enhance accessibility to mindfulness practices.


 
 

“Public awareness of mental health issues has heightened, yet access to professional care and therapists remains limited. However, we now have more preventive tools at our disposal, and hopefully, our research can facilitate mindfulness as a viable alternative.”






For more science and technology stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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