The numbers are, well, depressing: More than 2 million people age 65 and older suffer from depression, including 50 percent of those living in nursing homes. The suicide rate among white men over 85 is the highest in the country -- six times the national rate.
And we're not getting any younger. In the next 35 years, the number of Americans over 65 will double and the number of those over 85 will triple.
So the question becomes, how to help elderly depressed individuals?
Researchers at UCLA turned to a gentle, Westernized version of tai chi chih, a 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art. When they combined a weekly tai chi exercise class with a standard depression treatment for a group of depressed elderly adults, they found greater improvement in the level of depression -- along with improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy -- than among a different group in which the standard treatment was paired with a weekly health education class.
The results of the study appear in the current online edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
"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," said first author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor-in-residence of psychiatry. "We know that nearly two-thirds of elderly patients who seek treatment for their depression fail to achieve relief with a prescribed medication."