Daily Activities Can Alleviate Depressive Symptoms in Dementia Patients

Nursing home residents who suffer from dementia often also suffer from coexisting depression. Depression can cause a greater cognitive decline in dementia patients. However, because the overlapping symptoms of depression and dementia such as atypical presentation, lack of insight, and expression difficulties are often overlooked, nursing home residents who suffer from both depression and dementia do not get adequate treatment for both conditions. In lieu of overmedication, alternative methods can be used to alleviate the symptoms of depression. A study published in the American Association for Geriatric Pediatry offers alternative ways to treat depression. These depressive symptoms can be easily remedied by simple leisure activities done two or three times a week.

The study placed thirty-six residents from nine different nursing homes in Hong Kong in three different activities that they would engage in three times a week: mahjong, tai chi, and handicrafts. Results showed that tai chi alleviated symptoms very slightly, and most likely didn’t provide the expected results because the physical movement was too difficult for most residents due to the lack of normal physical activity prior to the study. Results also showed that mahjong had a short-lived effect; symptoms of depression were alleviated immediately after the activity, but returned to baseline level at the follow-up 3 months later after stopping the activity. This means that if done regularly, mahjong will keep nursing home residents at a healthier state of mind, slowing down the cognitive decline of dementia that is caused by depression.

Unfortunately, activity levels in nursing homes are relatively low. The psychological well-being of residents is rarely a priority, and as a result, residents can suffer from both dementia and depression at the same time, causing great emotional distress and cognitive decline. The mahjong activity conducted in the study can be very easily implemented in nursing homes if nursing homes choose to make the effort to hire staff that is motivated to conduct these activities and rouse interest in the residents to engage in these activities. Most nursing homes are usually understaffed and therefore do not have the adequate resources to conduct such activities to improve the quality of care.

Additionally, the activity of choice does not need to be mahjong. The activity can be anything that rouses interest in the residents and whether the activity is doable given the residents’ health limitations (tai chi was deemed too difficult for the residents in the study). The main point to keep in mind is that whatever activity is chosen, it needs to be done regularly. Even the effects of mahjong were limited after the activity was stopped for three months. All nine of the nursing homes that participated in the study discontinued mahjong as an activity despite the results of the study. The cognitive decline of dementia already progresses rapidly, and it is unfair to not implement such a simple activity into the daily lives of residents to prevent their condition from getting progressively worse. There is simply no excuse for nursing homes to have no meaningful activities whatsoever for their residents to participate in.


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