By Kate Wharmby Seldman
A new study indicates that tai chi can help alleviate depression in the elderly. A recent New York Times health article reported that scientific research showed people around 70 years of age experienced dramatic mood improvements after practicing this Chinese martial art.
Tai chi is over 700 years old. It’s a martial art that combines very slow movements with breathing and meditation. It involves a slow sequence of specific moves that flow into one another. There are several different types of tai chi: the form used in this study was tai chi chih, a routine including 19 movements and one static pose. It’s gentle enough for older people to practice without needing to be particularly physically fit.
UCLA researchers conducted the tai chi-depression study, which was published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 112 adults, whose average age was 70, took part. Every one of the participants had been diagnosed with major depression. The study had two parts: first, all 112 people were treated with Lexapro. 73 of the patients’ symptoms improved, but they still scored high on depression tests. The remaining 29 patients dropped out of the study, including one person whose symptoms abated when on Lexapro.
Next, the remaining 73 people split into two groups: one group took a 10-week tai chi course, and the other took a health education class that included stretching. Both classes were two hours long and took place once a week. 94% of the tai chi group experienced dramatic improvement in depression symptoms, and 65% went into remission from depression. Comparatively, 77% of the health education group improved, and 51% went into remission.
Older people with depression can be very hard to treat: they’re less likely to benefit from treatment with drugs. They’re often dealing with other health problems, which can complicate treatment, especially when the patient’s already taking lots of prescription drugs. These health issues can also exacerbate depression. The tai chi study indicates there’s a promising alternative treatment available for elderly people suffering from mood disorders. Practicing regular tai chi may even allow these people to reduce or eliminate some of their other mood-related medications.
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