A new study has shown that elderly who are regulars at the cinema, theatre or spend time at cultural meets and activities can protect themselves from depression. The study results were published in the latest issue of the journal British Journal of Psychiatry.
The British study showed that older folks can cut their depression risk by 32 percent simply by going to cultural activities every few months. And if they go at least once a month, their risk appears to drop by a whopping 48 percent.
Using data on more than 2,000 adults over 50 from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), researchers found that people who attended exhibitions, watched films, and/or went to the theatre once a month or more were 48 per cent less likely to develop depression as a result.
Lead author Dr Daisy Fancourt of University College London, in a statement said, “Generally speaking, people know the benefits of eating their five-a-day and of exercise for their physical and mental health, but there is very little awareness that cultural activities also have similar benefits. We were very pleasantly surprised by the results.”
She said these activities can lead to stimulation of the mind as well as improve social interaction. They encourage creativity as well.
She added, “Notably we find the same relationship between cultural engagement and depression amongst those of high and low wealth and of different levels of education, the only thing that differs is the frequency of participation.”
Fancourt suggested that there are probably many positive ‘side effects’ generated by cultural participation, all of which seem to help tamp down depression risk.
“For example, going to concerts or the theatre gets people out of the house,” she said, “which reduces sedentary behaviours and encourages gentle physical activity, which is protective against depression.”
Fancourt added, “It also provides social engagement, reducing social isolation and loneliness. Engaging with the arts is stress-reducing, associated with lower stress hormones such as cortisol, and also lower inflammation, which is itself associated with depression.”
Dr Amanda Thompsell, chair of the old age faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists lauded the study but cautioned that only cultural activities may not be enough to treat depression.
She said that some individuals may need counselling and medication for the treatment of depression. “The college welcomes this paper and encourages further research into the important area of old age mental health,” she concluded.
Fancourt said cultural engagements are “perishable commodity”. “For it to have long-term benefits for mental health, we need to engage in activities regularly. This is similar to exercise: going for a run on the first of January won’t still have benefits in October unless we keep going for runs,” she explained.
This is the first study of its kind write the researchers.
“People engage with culture for the pure enjoyment of doing so, but we need to be raising awareness of their wider benefits too,” said Fancourt.
“This requires an approach based on the use of talking therapies, complemented by the use of medication where an older person doesn’t respond or when they have more severe depression,” said Dr Thompsell.
Those points were seconded by Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach with the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago.
“Being socially or culturally active checks a lot of important boxes that may help reduce depression or cognitive decline,” Fargo noted.
He further added, “These activities stimulate thinking, they can evoke enjoyable feelings and emotions, and they often provide opportunities for interaction with others – all things that can enhance mental health.”
Turhan Canli, an associate psychology professor at Stony Brook University in New York, described the findings as ‘interesting’ and ‘intuitively appealing.’
“So, if you enjoy cultural engagement, enjoy,” he said. “If you never tried it, give it a try. If you think you hate it, but actually never tried, try to keep an open mind, perhaps you will surprise yourself.”
Source: Medical Xpress