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Exercise & Fitness for Senior Citizens

Exercise Fails to Help Depressed Elderly in London Care Homes

Popular with residents but it had no effect on depression or general quality of life

May 2, 2013 – Exercise often seems to be an automatic recommendation for anything that ails a senior citizen. New research indicates, however, that this common solution for better mental and physical health has met its match in trying to help elderly living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities escape from depression.

Exercise was not effective in reducing burden of depression among elderly care home residents according to researchers at the University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London.

Exercise is a low risk intervention that can improve mental health but the findings of a National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment Program study, published in The Lancet, conclude that there is a requirement for alternative approaches to reduce the burden of depression in frail, very elderly, care home residents.

The large randomized controlled trial sought to discover whether an intervention that combined a twice-weekly, moderately intensive exercise sessions over the course of a year and promotion of physical activity by care home staff would reduce depression.

 

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Over 1,000 residents were recruited from 78 UK care homes. Nearly half of the frail elderly care home residents recruited to the study were suffering from depression.

The intervention was well received in the homes, and popular with residents but it had no effect on depression, or residents’ general quality of life.

“We are disappointed that this exercise intervention had no effect on the serious problem of depression with the care home residents,” said Martin Underwood, Professor of Primary Care Research at Warwick Medical School, who led the research team.

“We already know that antidepressants are effective for more severely depressed patients, while preventive strategies such as increased social engagement and psychological stimulation are promising but as yet unproven. New approaches are clearly needed to address the major burden of depression in this most needy population.

“I would stress that these results only apply to care home residents and only to depression; there is no doubt that exercise improves fitness and physical health in younger people and in fitter elderly people.

“With the number of people needing residential care predicted to continue rising year on year, it is ever more important that residents have access to effective interventions to improve their mental health.”

Stephanie Taylor, Professor in Public Health and Primary Care at Queen Mary, added, “While the intervention was, unfortunately, not effective in reducing the presence of depressive symptoms in this population, with nearly half of the residents in our study showing depressive symptoms we are hopeful that this will spur further research around understanding and improving the lives of older people in care homes.”

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