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Seniors May Battle Depression with “Exergames”

Depression [1] affects a significant number of senior citizens, and can become a debilitating problem as desire to socialize and spend time participating in favorite activities or obtain adequate exposure to sunlight may wane. Helping seniors take control [2] of their symptoms through a number of treatments, especially psychotherapy [3], has been a major goal for health professionals in many fields for some time, and the suggestion that the elderly take advantage of the psychological benefits of exercise has become especially prominent. Yet summoning the motivation and energy to start and maintain a personal exercise program can be difficult –especially for people grappling with thoughts and feelings of depression. In light of this challenge, recent research performed at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the San Diego campus of the University of California [4] has uncovered a potential breakthrough for improving the psychological well-being of the elderly.

The study involved a small group of seniors, some of whom were indicated as having symptoms of Subsyndromal Depression, or SSD. The participants were introduced to so-called “exergames,” which involved playing exercise-oriented video games on a Nintendo Wii unit. Games included tennis, bowling, and other familiar activities, and engaged participants by requiring them to use a wireless remote to mimic the movements of the chosen activity. Many participants reported enjoying the games, and the affects on SSD symptoms were dramatic. Over a third of the seniors had at least a fifty percent reduction of their measured symptoms of depression after engaging in fairly short sessions three times per week.

The researchers note that a larger sample group size and the use of control groups should be incorporated into any subsequent studies on the benefits of these specific types of games, but welcome the work’s potential implications for improving the well-being of seniors who may otherwise be reluctant to participate in exercise-related treatments.