Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tai Chi eases depression for the Elderly


More than 2 million people over the age of 65 and 50 % of people living in nursing homes suffer from depression.

In the next 35 years, the number of Americans over 65 will double and the number of those over 85 will triple.

So here is the $1,000,000.00 question : How can elderly people fight depression ?

Researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles, studied 112 older adults suffering from major depression. Their average age was about 70.

Each patient received a common antidepressant during one month. 73 participants in the group showed partial improvement and were assigned to 10 weeks of either a Tai Chi class or a Health Education class including 10 minutes of  basic stretching exercises. Both classes lasted two hours once a week.


After 10 weeks of Tai Chi, 94 % of the participants showed marked improvement on depression scales, compared with 77 % in the health education group. 

Also 65 % of the people in the Tai Chi group experienced remission, compared with 51 % in the education group.

The Tai Chi group also showed marked improvement in measures of physical function, cognitive tests and blood tests measuring levels of inflammation.

According to Dr. Lavretsky, lead author of the study “If a psychiatrist were to add exercise like Tai Chi, which is very non-demanding and easy to access, that would be a very beneficial thing instead of adding another drug.”

Dr. Lavretsky added that one reason both study groups showed improvement was that all the patients probably benefited from interaction with other people. “I’m sure the social aspect contributed to the improvement in both groups,’’ she said. “In the control group we see improvement, and that was purely because of the social interaction and bonding that occurred.”


Depression is difficult to treat in older people - two-thirds of them don’t respond to initial drug therapy. Often when a patient doesn’t respond to a first drug, an additional drug is given, but that may prove tricky for patients who may sometimes already be taking all the way up to 10 other drugs for other health problems.

“This is very easily translatable into community care,’’ said Dr. Lavretsky. “As their health improves, they may be able to reduce the other drugs they are taking for pain or other problems.”

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