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Guided imagery helps elderly patients to remember to take their medications.

28 Jun
A new study from the National Institute on Aging finds that guided imagery helps elderly patients to remember to take their medicine. Researchers Linda Liu, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, and Denise Park, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois found that older adults who spent a few minutes imagining and picturing how they would test their blood sugar were 50 percent more likely to actually do these tests on a regular basis than those who used other memory techniques requiring far more conscious effort.

Thirty-one non-diabetic elderly volunteers were taught to do home blood glucose tests. The participants, ages 60 to 81, were randomly assigned to one of three groups and told to monitor their blood sugar levels four specific times daily. They were not allowed to use timers, alarms or other devices.
Those assigned to the imagery group spent one 3-minute session visualizing exactly what they would be doing and where they would be the next day when they were scheduled to test their blood sugar levels. Another group repeatedly recited aloud the instructions for testing their blood. The third group were asked to write a list of pros and cons for testing blood sugar. Because the blood glucose monitors recorded time- and date-stamps each time a test was conducted, researchers were able to collect very accurate data.

Over the next 3 weeks, participants in the implementation group remembered 76 percent of the time to test their blood sugar at the right times of the day compared to an average of 46 percent in the other two groups. Those in the imagery group were far less likely to go an entire day without testing than those in the other two groups. The study concludes that imagery appears to be a potent, inexpensive and user-friendly way to help older people remember to take their medications. Due to the small size of the study, however, further research will be needed to replicate the findings more generally.

Dr. Park suggests that using imagination may be more effective than other techniques because it relies on automatic memory, a primitive component of memory that doesn''t decline with age. Using this technique, you might, for example, imagine taking your pills right after you drink your morning glass of orange juice. The next day at breakfast taking a sip of orange juice will "automatically" cue you to take your medication. This is not an explicit thought, but rather an unconscious cue.

Citation: Liu, Linda and Park, Denise, Psychology and Aging, June 2004
Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award