US researchers reported on March 16 that a gentle, Westernized version of the ancient Chinese martial art tai chi can lift depression in older people.
Depression in older adults is the subject of serious concern, with millions of people over the age of 65 experiencing depression, and men over the age of 85 facing increased risks of suicide. Yet, about half of all cases of depression go undiagnosed and untreated, although experts say depression is the most treatable form of mental illness.
US researchers at UCLA measured the effectiveness of weekly tai chi exercise classes along with a standard depression treatment involving medication for a group of depressed seniors. The tai chi group found greater improvement in their levels of depression - "along with improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy" - than the group for which the standard treatment was paired with a weekly health education class.
"Depression can lead to serious consequences, including greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care," Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor-in-residence of psychiatry. "With tai chi, we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications."
If you or someone you know is experiencing mild depression, Jonathan Ellerby, Ph.D., of the famed US Canyon Ranch in Arizona, recommends a few easy tips before seeking medication or diagnosis. A regular contributor to the US-based Psychology Today website, Ellerby recommends that people examine a few other areas of their life before seeking treatment.
"In short, sleep, exercise, diet, exposure to natural light, meaningful relationships, and an overall sense that your life choices are reflective of your true values are the foundations of wellbeing, mood stability, and a positive outlook," he wrote on the Psychology Today website. The good news, he adds, is that if you do in fact have a medical condition, these steps will only help you manage the problem. "Many psychiatrists are convinced that this short list of factors along with some therapy and meditation tools [are] really all it takes to manage most forms of depression."
American author and physician Andrew Weil suggests regular aerobic exercise as the best cure for the blues. He recommends 30 minutes of continuous activity at least five days a week. He also suggests cutting caffeine and checking your medications to see if any over-the-counter or prescription drugs might be contributing to depression.
Watch a demo of tai chi for seniors: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWer7rRk-zI
The results of the study appear in the current online edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Access the abstract here: http://journals.lww.com/ajgponline/Abstract/publishahead/Complementary_Use_of_Tai_Chi_Chih_Augments.99664.aspx