Mindfulness can impact on quality of life for people with learning disabilities, but more research needed


Mindfulness is an approach to life based on an ancient Buddhist practice which means paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental manner, which aims to increase awareness, clarity and acceptance.

As a number of studies have looked at mindfulness-based interventions the authors of this narrative review set out to look at the clinical and academic impacts reported in these studies.

What they did was evaluate 18 studies where they found a number of strengths –

  • replicable methodological approaches,
  • multiple baseline designs,
  • construct and criterion validity,
  • consideration of mechanisms by which mindfulness might influence behaviour change.

However, there were also a number of limitations

  • few randomised controlled trials,
  • qualitative data included without structured analysis,
  • little use of statistical analyses,
  • sampling problems leading to difficulties generalising findings.

They also identified a lack of research on some key theories such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (which emphasises the psychosocial aspects of treatment) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (an approach which helps the person accept their thoughts, but then use a variety of techniques to diffuse that thought)

They call for further research in these areas.

The effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions for supporting people with intellectual disabilities: a narrative review, Harper S et al., in Behaviour Modification, 37, 3, 431-453

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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