Cultural activity fends off depression in old age

Visiting museums, the cinema and theatre are associated with a lower risk of developing depression in older people.

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2018.267) looked at data from 2148 adults, mean age 62.9 years (range 52–89), in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing who were free from depression at baseline. The researchers used logistic regression models to explore associations between frequency of cultural engagement (including going to museums, theatre and cinema) and the risk of developing depression over the following 10 years using a combined index of the Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and physician-diagnosed depression.

There was a ‘dose–response’ relationship between frequency of cultural engagement and the risk of developing depression independent of sociodemographic, health-related and social confounders. This equated to a 32% lower risk of developing depression for people who did cultural activities every few months (odds ratio=0.68, 95% CI 0.47–0.99, p=0.046) and a 48% lower risk for people who attended once a month or more (0.52, 95% CI 0.34–0.80, p=0.003).

According to the authors, cultural engagement appears to be an independent risk-reducing factor for the development of depression in older age and this association may be ascribed to multiple components of cultural engagement including social interaction, mental creativity, cognitive stimulation and gentle physical activity.

The study could have important implications for men who tend to be less culturally active in retirement than women.

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