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June 2011

Hunt directs mindfulness techniques at area seniors

Maria Hunt, Ph.D., had a large box sitting on her desk in her office in Avila University's Foyle Hall recently and immediately began ripping open the packaging with enthusiasm and gusto.

This was the piece of machinery Hunt, director of mindfulness in Avila's Psychology Department, had been waiting for – a device called an electrocardiograph which monitors heart activity in a body in stress, relaxation and all the different states in between.

"This is what we've been waiting for," she said, a big smile crossing her face. "This will help bring us up to the level of a (Kansas University), give us what they have. It will really help in the work we're doing with seniors and their health and longevity.

"This is why we need grants."

The purchase of the machine was made possible by a $50,000 grant received early this year from George H. Nettleton Home, which oversees numerous senior communities and retirement homes. The grant, which was obtained through working with Avila's Advancement team, allowed Hunt and her department to develop and implement community-based mindfulness programs for seniors in the Kansas City area.

And, use machines like the electrocardiograph.

"We were ending a Menorah Legacy Foundation grant," said Hunt, who's been at Avila since 2000 but is in her fourth year as mindfulness director. "I wanted to connect with an organization that was interested in combining body, mind and spirit in a more practical way than meditation. I decided the way to go would be to include physical activity. We wanted to offer a combination of mindfulness and physical activity."

Hunt calls it all "mindful wellness" – finding ways to increase intentional choices through awareness and staying focused on the moment at hand. She said studies have shown such mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can rid people of addictions, reduce stress and successfully treat obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Targeting senior citizens with her mindfulness programs is a great litmus test, Hunt said. She threw out the technical term, neuroplasticity, which in laymen's terms pretty much means, "If we can move the needle with seniors, we can do it with anyone."

"You can teach an old dog new tricks," Hunt said. "We knew we could learn new things with the mind. We wanted to see whether we can have the same growth prospect with the body."

Hunt said she was inspired toward this course of study by a workshop she attended two years ago entitled, How to Die Young as Late as Possible. The Nettleton grant will take her at least to the end of 2011, she said, perhaps to March of 2012.

If all goes well, Hunt said her team's work could lead to more grants in the future.

"We're happy about working with some colleagues at KU, because they serve as external, and therefore objective, evaluators," Hunt said. "We can apply for a National Institute of Aging grant if we get positive results." AU

Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434