Couples-Based Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Patients and Caregivers

A recent study found that yoga could improve overall quality of life for patients with high grade glioma, as well as their caregivers.

Kathrin Milbury, PhD

Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center recently tested the feasibility of couples-based yoga. Participants were patients with high grade glioma (HGG) and their caregivers. The goal was to alleviate some of the stress and side effects that come with this cancer.

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 2 or 3 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, study author Kathrin Milbury, PhD, 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, including psychological distress, sleep, fatigue, and overall QOL were improved for both patients and caregivers. In fact, 33% rated the program as “useful” and 67% 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 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.”

Milbury K, Mallaiah S, Mahajan A, et al. Yoga program for patients with brain tumors undergoing radiotherapy (XRT) and their family caregivers. J Clin Oncol. 2016;34 (suppl 26S; abstr 200)