UCLA Logo Over the past years, a tremendous rise in depressed individuals has been reported. In an attempt to reduce depression, UCLA scientists discovered that a weekly tai chi exercise class along with a standard depression treatment greatly benefits depressed elderly people. It not only seems to improve the quality of life, but also enhances memory, cognition and overall energy.

While conducting the study, 112 adults at the age of 60 or above diagnosed with major depression were treated with the drug escitalopram, a standard antidepressant, for four weeks. A total of 73 participants allegedly revealed partial improvement and continued to receive the medication daily. These subjects were randomly assigned to undergo a 10 week class of either tai chi for two hours per week or a health education class for two hours every week. Levels of depression, anxiety, resilience, health-related quality of life, cognition and immune system inflammation were measured at the beginning of the study and again after four months.

“Depression can lead to serious consequences, including greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care,” said first author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor-in-residence of psychiatry. “This study shows that adding a mind-body exercise like tai chi that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults, who may also have other, co-existing medical conditions, or cognitive impairment. With tai chi we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications.”

In order to calculate the level of depression in each volunteer, scientists used a common diagnostic tool known as the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. While implementing this tool an individual has to be probably interviewed for gauging the severity of depression. A cut-off score of 10/11 may be considered as appropriate for the diagnosis of depression. It was noted that among the tai chi participants, 94 percent seemingly gained a score of less than 10. And 65 percent purportedly achieved remission that is a score of 6 or less.

As compared to those subjected to health education, 77 percent apparently attained scores of 10 or less, with 51 percent achieving remission. Authors registered improvement in the severity of depression among both the groups. However, greater reductions appeared in those taking escitalopram and participating in tai chi.

The study appears in the current online edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.