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Researchers Evaluate Exercise Effects on Elderly Depression

A moderately intense exercise program may lack significant effect on depressive symptoms in residents of elderly care homes, a study reports.

Depression has been found to be common and linked to poor outcomes in elderly people who reside in care homes. Depression or depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts. Depression is considered a mood disorder. Imbalances in three neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), including serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, are linked to depression. Depression affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself and the way one thinks about life situations. Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss or passing mood states, depressive disorders are persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity and physical health.

Exercise has been suggested as a possible intervention for depression among elderly care home residents. In a recent study published in Lancet, the researchers collected data from 891 people over the age of 65 in 78 care homes. The control group received depression awareness training, while the intervention group received this in addition to 45-minute group exercise sessions twice weekly. The researchers conducted a follow-up for 12 months, after which they determined effects on depressive symptoms using the geriatric depression scale-15 (GDS-15).

A total of 3,191 group exercise sessions were conducted and were attended, on average, by five people participating in the study and by five non-study residents. Overall, the results suggested that the GDS-15 score was worse at 12 months in the intervention group, compared to the control group. Among the 49 percent of residents who were depressed at the start of the study, GDS-15 score was worse at the six-month mark in the intervention group.

The researchers concluded that the moderately intense exercise program used in the study lacked effect on depressive symptoms in elderly care home residents. They suggested that alternative strategies may be needed to help manage psychological symptoms. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

Many integrative therapies have been evaluated for possible benefits in depression. Light therapy, music therapy and St. John’s wort are all backed by strong scientific evidence for their effectiveness for this purpose.

Underwood M, Lamb SE, Eldridge S, et al. Exercise for depression in elderly residents of care homes: a cluster-randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2013 May 1. pii: S0140-6736(13)60649-2. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60649-2. [Epub ahead of print]

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