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Study Probes Depression in Older Adults with Dementia

Study Probes Depression in Older Adults with Dementia

In a new study, a doctoral student at Umeå University in Sweden set out to determine whether a high-intensity exercise program or a non-exercise group activity could help reduce levels of depression in nursing home residents with dementia.

His findings reveal that both activities equally reduced levels of depression, suggesting that the experience of being in a group, rather than the exercise alone, may have a profound effect on depression in older adults.

“Unfortunately, depression is common among older people, especially in people with dementia,” said Gustaf Boström.

“Treatment with antidepressant drugs is often ineffective in older people and people with dementia. In addition, the risk of drug-related side effects increases with higher age and poor health, which is yet another reason to find other treatments.”

In his dissertation, Boström tested whether 45 minutes of high-intensity exercise, every other weekday for four months, could elicit a better effect on depressive symptoms than a seated group activity, performed for the same period of time, in older people with dementia.

The exercise program included balance and leg strengthening exercises that mimicked everyday movements, including rising up from a chair, step up and down from a step board, or walking on a path with obstacles.

Participants in the seated group discussed, sang, or listened to readings, all with varying themes such as seasons, wild animals, or well-known authors. The findings show that high levels of depressive symptoms were reduced in both groups in equal measures.

“Previous studies have shown that people with dementia at residential care facilities have few social interactions, which can negatively affect a person’s well-being. The positive effects could therefore be the results of social interactions in these kinds of group activities. However, more research is needed to confirm this,” said Boström.

In another experiment, Boström studied 392 older adults to see whether there is a connection between impaired balance, general dependency in activities of daily living, and depression in older age. His findings suggest that there is a link between impaired balance and depressive symptoms.

Regarding dependency in activities of daily living, two specific tasks were related to increases in depressive symptoms — dependency in transfer and dressing.

“The link between impaired balance, dependency in transfer or dressing, and depression is an important finding and may be the subject of future studies focusing on prevention or treatment of depression among people in older age,” Boström said.

Finally, Boström investigated whether people with dementia or people over the age of 85 had an increased risk of death with ongoing treatment with antidepressants.

Earlier research has found an increased risk of death with antidepressant use in older people with depression. For very old people or people with dementia, who are expected to have a higher risk of drug-related side effects, the knowledge of potential mortality risk associated with antidepressant use is limited.

While the study showed no significantly increased risk in these groups, a few gender differences were discovered. Among the very old, women had a higher risk of death with antidepressant use in comparison to men. Among people with dementia, antidepressant use was associated with a reduced mortality risk in men.

Source: Umea University

Group of elderly people photo by shutterstock.

Study Probes Depression in Older Adults with Dementia

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Study Probes Depression in Older Adults with Dementia. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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