Study: Tai chi a useful depression fighter

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Senior citizens with major depression experienced an improvement in their quality of life when treated with a combination of a standard antidepressant and weekly tai chi exercise classes, according to new research.

This is good news for nursing homes, where statistics show that 50% of residents suffer from depression. Depression is linked to greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care.

“This is the first study to demonstrate the benefits of tai chi in the management of late-life depression, and we were encouraged by the results,” UCLA researcher Dr. Helen Lavretsky said. “We know that nearly two-thirds of elderly patients who seek treatment for their depression fail to achieve relief with a prescribed medication.”

Researchers studied 112 seniors being treated for depression with the drug Lexapro (escitalopram) alone for four weeks. Of these patients, 73 saw partial improvement, continued taking Lexapro, and were assigned to 10 weeks of tai chi therapy for two hours per week. The rest of the group was assigned to 10 weeks of health education classes for two hours per week.

In the tai chi group, 94% achieved scores consistent with improved depression symptoms, while 65% experienced remission. In the other group, only 77% had improved symptoms and 51% went into remission. The study was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.