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.
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The team of researchers write that visits to the cinema and “cultural engagement” can reduce the risk of development of depression as the age advances. They looked at data from 2,148 adults over the age of 50 years. This data came from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) database. ELSA looks at the health, social and mental wellbeing of the eldery population over a period of a decade.
The team noted that people who frequented exhibitions, film screenings, opera, museums, art galleries or theatre at least once a month had a 48 percent less risk of developing depression compared to those who did not. Even adults who attended these cultural events once in every few months were also 32 percent less likely to develop depression, the study noted.
The team was meticulous with the data and they ruled out and considered other factors that raised risk of depression while analyzing the data. This included factors such as old age, gender predisposition, overall health, regular exercise etc. They still came to the conclusion that cultural activities improve mental well being.
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.”
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.