Psychosocial interventions with art, music,

Psychosocial interventions with art, music, Tai Chi and
mindfulness for subsyndromal depression and anxiety in older
adults: A naturalistic study in Singapore
Iris Rawtaer1 MBBS, MMed, Rathi Mahendran1,2 MBBS, MMed, M Med ED, FAMS, Junhong Yu2 MSocSci,
Johnson Fam1,2 MBBS, MMed, MRes, Lei Feng2 MD, PhD & Ee Heok Kua1,2 MBBS, MD, FRCPsych
1 Department of Psychological Medicine, National University Hospital, Singapore
2 Department of Psychological Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore
anxiety, Asia, community, depression, elderly
Iris Rawtaer MBBS, MMed, Department of
Psychological Medicine, National University
Hospital, Level 9, 1E Kent Ridge Road, Singapore
119228, Singapore.
Tel: +65 67723884/+65 91552607
Fax: +65 67722191
Email: [email protected]/
[email protected]
Received 17 June 2015
Accepted 19 June 2015
Objectives: Subsyndromal depression (SSD) and subsyndromal anxiety
(SSA) are common in the elderly and if left untreated, contributes to a
lower quality of life, increased suicide risk, disability and inappropriate use
of medical services. Innovative approaches are necessary to address this
public health concern. We evaluate a community-based psychosocial
intervention program and its effect on mental health outcomes in Singaporean older adults.
Method: Elderly participants with SSD and SSA, as assessed on the Geriatric Depression Scale and Geriatric Anxiety Inventory, were included.
Intervention groups include Tai Chi exercise, Art Therapy, Mindfulness
Awareness Practice and Music Reminiscence Therapy. The program was
divided into a single intervention phase and a combination intervention
phase. Outcomes were measured with the Zung Self-Rating Depression
Scale (SDS) and Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS) at baseline, 4 weeks,
10 weeks, 24 weeks and 52 weeks. The program had ethics board approval.
Results: A hundred and one subjects (25 males, 76 females; mean
age = 71 years, SD = 5.95) participated. There were significant reductions
in SDS and SAS scores in the single intervention phase (P < 0.05), and
these reductions remained significant at week 52, after completion of the
combination intervention phase, relative to baseline (P < 0.001).
Conclusion: Participating in these psychosocial interventions led to a positive improvement in SSD and SSA symptoms in these elderly subjects over
a year. This simple, inexpensive and culturally acceptable approach should
be adequately studied and replicated in other communities.
Singapore has a rapidly aging population. In 2013,
10.5% of the population was above 65 years of age,
and this is projected to increase to 19% by Singapore
Department of Statistics (2014). Aging and age-related
diseases will be a challenge for individuals, families,
socio-political and health care systems. Impactful
paradigm shifts in mental health care delivery for
older persons is necessary. Preventive psychiatry is
one such change that has been gaining momentum.
Many elderly have depressive and anxiety symptoms that do not fulfill diagnostic criteria for major
depressive disorder or any anxiety disorder. Reported
rates of subsyndromal depression (SSD) vary from
8.4% to 9.9% in community samples, or from 5% to
16% in primary care patients, depending on the definition used (Judd et al., 1994; Rucci et al., 2003).
Several studies from East Asia found the prevalence of
SSD in the elderly population to be about 8% to 9%
(Kua and Ho, 2008; Soh et al., 2008). Anxiety disorders are prevalent in older adults but it often goes
Offi cial journal of the
Pacifi c Rim College of Psychiatrists
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© 2015 Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd
unrecognized and untreated. A recent review found
that subsyndromal anxiety (SSA) is even more widespread than anxiety disorders, with prevalence rates
ranging from 15% to 52.3% in community samples
(Bryant et al., 2008). One study on the prevalence of
anxiety in community-dwelling older adults with cardiovascular diseases found 12-month prevalence rates
of anxiety and subthreshold anxiety were 5.1% and
14.8%, respectively (Grenier et al., 2012). Both SSD
and SSA affect quality of life (Preisig et al., 2001;
Wetherell et al., 2004), increase suicide risks (Sadek
and Bona, 2000), increase disability and inappropriate
use of medical services (de Beurs et al., 1999; Wagner
et al., 2000).
SSD and SSA are significant public health concerns, and there is a need to develop innovative programs to target this population of older adults to
prevent the onset of full-blown disease. Locally, we
face certain challenges in developing mental health
program due to negative perceptions toward mental
illness (Chong et al., 2007). Adults with mental disorders often delay seeking help (Chong et al., 2012) and
reports indicate low rates of mental health service
utilization by the population (Ng et al., 2003). Almost
half of those with mental disorders who did seek help
had approached spiritual advisors or other healers
(Chong et al., 2012). In many parts of the world
including Singapore, patients often reject standard
psychiatric treatments as they are unfamiliar to them.
Negotiating cultural nuances and preferences will be
essential as we attempt to develop acceptable and
effective treatment strategies.
To address this need, a community-based mental
health program was established (Wu et al., 2014); we
evaluate the four psychosocial interventions delivered, namely Tai Chi Exercise (TCE), Mindfulness
Awareness Practice (MAP), Music-Reminiscence
Therapy (MRT) and Art Therapy (AT). Evidence suggests that all four of these modalities have promise in
improving mental health outcomes.
Tai Chi Exercise
Tai Chi, a form of Chinese Martial Arts in existence for
hundreds of years (Wang et al., 2009), is increasingly
being used in mental health settings. Meta-analytic
reviews indicate favorable outcomes on a range of
psychological well-being measures including depression and anxiety (Wang et al., 2009, 2010, 2014), with
large effect sizes for both conditions (Wang et al.,
2010). In one randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted in an Asian elderly population, Tai Chi had a
positive effect on reducing depressive symptoms
compared with no treatment in older patients with
depression (Chou et al., 2004). Tai Chi has also been
evaluated as a complementary modality to
pharmacotherapy for geriatric depression, with combination treatment showing greater reduction in
depressive symptoms than pharmacotherapy alone
(Lavretsky et al., 2011).
Mindfulness Awareness Practice
Mindfulness, defined as the process of attending to
present-moment experience in a nonjudgmental
manner, derives its origins from Eastern Buddhist
practices. It is widely adapted and integrated into
treatment for many psychological disorders. A recent
large meta-analysis presented robust evidence in
support of Mindfulness as a treatment for depression
and anxiety (Khoury et al., 2013). One RCT conducted
in Hong Kong found that mindfulness meditation significantly decreased depression and anxiety measures
in an adult Chinese population (Lo et al., 2013).
Music Reminiscence Therapy
Reminiscence therapy is a popular nonpharmacological intervention for dementia. Evidence
suggests it is also valuable in alleviating mood symptoms in elderly without dementia. Reminiscence
Therapy entails discussion of past activities, events and
experiences with a therapist or in groups. Prompts
used to facilitate therapy vary from photographs,
household appliances to music and other memorabilia. One meta-analysis assessing the effectiveness of
reminiscence and life review on late life depression
across different target groups and treatment modalities
found a large overall effect size of 0.84, comparable to
effect sizes for other pharmacological or psychological
interventions (Bohlmeijer et al., 2003). A Taiwanese
study examining the effects of Reminiscence therapy
on institutionalized elderly found significant improvements in psychological well-being and reduction of
depressive symptoms and loneliness (Chiang et al.,
Art Therapy
Art therapy has a long history in psychiatric treatment
but is comparatively less well studied in depression
and anxiety in late life. Art therapy typically includes
two segments, the creation of an art piece and the
subsequent narrative of inner experiences and
thoughts. A recent RCT examining the effects of art
therapy on healthy aging in older adults found that it
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reduces negative emotions and anxiety and improves
self-esteem (Kim, 2013). Another study based on participants enrolled in the Australian Longitudinal Study
on Women’s Health explored the nature of older
women’s participation in art and craft activities and
reported that these women found purpose in their
lives, contributing to their subjective well-being while
helping and being appreciated by others (Liddle et al.,
In this naturalistic observational study, we
examine the impact of these four psychosocial interventions on the mental health of community dwelling
elderly participants.
Community nurses visited homes in 30 public housing
blocks in a community in the Western region of Singapore to invite residents, aged 60 years and older, for
a detailed screening assessment. Other participants
volunteered after hearing about the program from
other sources. Screening assessments including the
Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) (Nyunt et al., 2009),
Geriatric Anxiety Inventory (GAI) (Pachana et al.,
2007) and Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE)
(Feng et al., 2012) were conducted by trained nurses.
Participants who fulfilled the inclusion criteria based
on the screening results were recruited into this study.
The study had approval by the University’s institutional review board (IRB Reference Code: 13–168).
Inclusion Criteria
• GDS score between 1 and 5
• GAI score between 3 and 10
• MMSE score of 24 and above
• Able to provide written informed consent
Participants would attend weekly activities for 10
weeks, fortnightly for 18 weeks and monthly for the
rest of the year. Assessment of anxiety and depression
levels was conducted at the first week, fourth week,
10th week, 24th week and one year. Demographic
data were obtained at baseline.
During initiation into the program, participants
were given a choice of which intervention they would
like to partake in, namely TCE, MAP, MRT and AT.
They adhered to these individual therapies for 10
weeks. Thereafter, facilitators were informed by participants that they would prefer to have all four
interventions in one session. It was noted that
attendance at the time had dipped by 10% and in line
with the initial objectives of service delivery, this was
In the first six months, each meeting commenced
with a 20-minute health education talk, which comprised advice ranging from stabilizing chronic conditions (diabetes, hypertension), the benefits of exercise,
diet, health supplements and medication. For the first
10 weeks (single intervention phase), participants
would then be divided into their respective intervention groups and participated in the designated activity
for 30 minutes. For the rest of the year, or the combination intervention phase, participants would participate in a combination of all four modalities, 30
minutes each for TCE, MAP, MRT and AT; a total of 2
hours of intervention.
These groups were conducted by qualified instructors,
including certified art psychotherapists and Tai Chi
master trainers with over 10 years of experience. All
intervention groups were conducted at a research
center based in the community.
In the MRT group, an instructor would facilitate
discussion of past events or experiences after a sing
along of popular evergreen songs. While music was
the focus of reminiscence, other prompts were used
including photographs and pictures. All participants
were given ample opportunity for interaction and
In the MAP group, instructors would provide
guidance for the elderly in mindfulness meditation
focusing on body sensations, feelings and thoughts.
They would be instructed on various MAP techniques
including mindfulness of the senses, body scan practice, walking meditation, “movement nature meant”
practice and visuo-motor limbs tasks. There would be
a review of how the participants felt and time was
given for feedback.
The TCE group was led by an experienced practitioner who would demonstrate a set of slow, nonstrenuous movements coordinated with deep
breathing. Participants were taught traditional Sun
and Yang styles of Tai Chi. Instructors would take
participants through warm up exercises for 5 minutes,
Tai Chi movements and form for 20 minutes and cool
down exercises for 5 minutes.
In the single intervention phase, the elderly AT
groups were guided through both the creative and
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242 Asia-Pacific Psychiatry 7 (2015) 240–250
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narrative segments by a trained art therapist.
However, when the groups were combined, participants’ preference for the narrative segments led to a
transition to solely narrative aspects of therapy. Participants were shown an art piece to appreciate
and they would reflect on their inner thoughts and
Assessment Instruments
Geriatric Depression Scale
The original 15-item version of the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) (Yesavage et al., 1982) was used to
index the level of depression. This version of the GDS
has been validated and has demonstrated good psychometric properties in the local context (Nyunt et al.,
Geriatric Anxiety Inventory
The GAI (Pachana et al., 2007), comprising 20 agree/
disagree items was used to assess for anxiety symptoms. The GAI has recently shown good psychometric
properties in a similar population (Yan et al., 2014).
Mini Mental State Examination
MMSE is a 30-point clinician-rated instrument incorporating paper and pencil tasks that is commonly used
for cognitive screening (Folstein et al., 1975). It takes
approximately 10 minutes to complete and assesses
memory, orientation, attention, nominal aphasia,
receptive aphasia, receptive apraxia, alexia, agraphia
and constructional apraxia. A local modified version
has been validated and normative data for our population is available (Feng et al., 2012).
Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale and Zung
Self- Rating Anxiety Scale
The Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS) (Zung,
1965) and Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS)
(Zung, 1971) were used to quantify levels of depression and anxiety, respectively. The scales were selected
for their ease of use and brevity. Both the SDS and
SAS are 20-item self-report questionnaires that take
about 10 minutes to complete. Each item is scored on
a Likert scale ranging from one to four. A total score is
derived by summing the individual item scores
and ranges from 20 to 80. Higher scores indicate more
severe depression or anxiety. The SDS has been
validated and has demonstrated good psychometric
properties in a local community sample (Chang and
Koh, 2012).
English and Chinese versions of all the aforementioned questionnaires were provided to participants.
Nursing staff were available to provide assistance if
participants had any doubts about the items in the
Statistical analyses
Between group differences in the outcome variables at
baseline were analyzed using one way analysis of variance. Subsequently, such significant group differences
were further analyzed using post hoc Bonferroni tests.
A linear mixed model was used to analyze the changes
across various time points among the groups, given
that the time points were not evenly spread out. In
particular, a random intercept model was used, and
analyzed with a scaled identity covariance matrix.
Time and group were designated as fixed factors in the
model and, age, gender, education level, employment
status, living arrangement, housing type, medical conditions and baseline data for both SAS and SDS were
included as covariates. All categorical data were analyzed using Fisher’s Exact Tests (FET). Statistical significance for all analyses was set at P < 0.05, with the
exception of the post hoc Bonferroni tests where statistical significance was set at P < 0.0083 (six comparisons). In cases of incomplete questionnaires, their data
were prorated with the mean of the remaining items,
unless there were more than 10% missing data, in
which case the entire questionnaire was designated as
missing data. All calculations were conducted using
the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS
version 20, IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, USA) software.
Demographics and baseline data
A total of 101 subjects (25 males, 76 females; mean
age = 71 years, SD = 5.95) were enrolled in the study.
Figure 1 presents the participant flow. Six participants
were excluded from the analysis due to missing data at
baseline. The baseline demographic characteristics and
data of all intervention groups are shown in Table 1.
Out of the 95 participants included in the analysis,
four participants (4%) had a history of depression and
three (3%) had a history of anxiety. None of the
participants had a history of other mental health conditions. All groups did not differ significantly in their
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Asia-Pacific Psychiatry 7 (2015) 240–250 243
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mean age and distribution of gender, education level,
employment status, living arrangement, housing type,
medical conditions and mean baseline SDS scores, all
P > 0.05. However the groups differed significantly in
the distribution of marital status; FET = 18.8, P < 0.05.
Specifically, the proportion of divorced/separated
participants in MAP is significantly smaller than the
proportion of single participants in MAP, and the proportion of divorced/separated participants in AT is
significantly larger than the proportion of single or
married participants in AT. There was a significant
difference between groups in the baseline SAS
scores; F(3, 91) = 4.20, P < 0.05, specifically, post hoc
Bonferroni tests revealed that the MAP group had
significantly higher baseline SAS scores than the MRT
group, P < 0.0083. Both the SDS and SAS had moderate to high levels of internal consistency; Cronbach’s
α = 0.86 and 0.70, respectively.
Figure 1. Participant flow.
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Attrition and adherence rates
Out of 101 participants enrolled into the study, 99
(98%) completed the study at 52 weeks. Two participants had passed away prior to completion of the
study (Figure 1); their causes of death were bladder
malignancy and pneumonia. Some participants were
absent for certain intervention sessions but remained
in the study. There was a mean individual participant
attendance rate of 91%. For all of the intervention
sessions, the mean attendance rate was 91%.
However, mean attendance rates between the single
intervention phase (95%) and combination intervention phase (88%) was significantly different.
Intervention outcomes
In the single intervention phase, the main effect of
time was significant for both the SDS and SAS scores
(P < 0.001); SDS and SAS scores fell significantly
during this phase (Table 2). The interaction effect of
time*group was not significant in any of the outcome
variables (P > 0.05; Table 2), suggesting that the
changes from baseline were not significantly different
between treatment groups. Despite this, not all treatment groups had statistically significant score changes
when compared to their respective baseline data. At
the end of the fourth week, only MRT and AT treatment groups registered a significant decrease in SDS
Table 1. Demographic characteristics at baseline
Characteristic MRT TCE MAP AT FET F
N 26 21 21 27
Mean age (SD) 71.4 (6.0) 69.8 (5.9) 72.9 (6.5) 70.4 (4.7) 1.18
Males (%) 4 (15.4) 5 (23.8) 7 (33.3) 7 (25.9) 2.2
None (%) 8 (30.1) 4 (19.0) 4 (19.0) 3 (11.1)
Primary (%) 11 (42.3) 10 (47.6) 12 (57.1) 8 (29.6) 9.8
Beyond primary (%) 7 (26.9) 7 (33.3) 5 (23.8) 15 (55.6)
Marital status
Single (%) 2 (7.7) 0 (0) 4 (19.0) 0 (0)
18.8* Married (%) 14 (53.8) 16 (76.2) 11 (52.4) 14 (51.9)
Divorced/ separated (%) 0 (0) 2 (9.5) 0 (0) 6 (22.2)
Widowed (%) 10 (38.5) 3 (14.3) 6 (28.6) 7 (25.9)
Employment status
Full-time employment (%) 2 (7.69) 0 (0) 1 (4.76) 0 (0)
15.7 Part-time employment (%) 3 (11.5) 3 (14.3) 0 (0) 2 (7.4)
Homemaker (%) 9 (34.6) 6 (28.6) 3 (14.3) 6 (22.2)
Retired (%) 12 (46.2) 12 (57.1) 15 (71.4) 19 (70.4)
Living arrangements
Alone (%) 4 (15.4) 5 (23.8) 7 (33.3) 6 (22.2) 2.1
Housing type
One-two room PH (%) 0 (0) 2 (9.5) 3 (14.3) 3 (11.1)
Three room PH (%) 4 (14.4) 3 (14.3) 7 (33.3) 5 (18.5)
Four-five room PH (%) 18 (69.2) 15 (71.4) 10 (47.6) 16 (59.3) 11.4
Executive/maisonette (%) 3 (11.5) 0 (0) 0 (0) 2 (7.4)
Private housing (%) 1 (3.9) 1 (4.8) 1 (4.8) 1 (3.7)
No. of medical conditions
None (%) 5 (19.2) 1 (4.76) 3 (14.3) 4 (14.8)
6.7 1 2 (7.7) 3 (14.3) 2 (9.5) 6 (22.2)
2 8 (28.8) 7 (33.3) 7 (33.3) 4 (14.8)
>2 11 (42.3) 10 (47.6) 9 (42.0) 13 (48.1)
Mean SDS score baseline (SD) 28.6 (8.0) 35.2 (9.9) 34.1 (11.4) 31.0 (8.1) 2.50
Mean SAS score baseline (SD) 32.5† (4.7) 36.2 (4.4) 37.8† (7.3) 36.1 (4.7) 4.20*
*P < 0.05.
†Significantly different at the Bonferroni corrected P < 0.0.0083 level.
AT, Art Therapy. FET, Fisher’s Exact Test; MAP, Mindfulness Awareness Practice; MRT, Music Reminiscence Therapy; PH, Public Housing; TCE, Tai Chi
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and SAS scores, respectively (P < 0.05; Table 2). Subsequently in the 10th week, both MAP and AT treatment groups had significant decrements in SDS and
SAS scores relative to baseline (P < 0.01; Table 2).
MRT maintained significant reductions in SDS scores
in week 10 (P < 0.01; Table 2).
In the combination intervention phase, the main
effect of time was significant for both variables
(P < 0.01; Table 2). Participants’ SDS and SAS scores
were significantly lower in the 24th and 52nd week
relative to baseline (Table 2). However, it should be
noted that, SDS and SAS scores had actually significantly increased in week 24 relative to week 10
(P < 0.05). SDS and SAS scores in week 52 were not
significantly different from week 10 (P > 0.05).
In its entirety, this psychosocial intervention program
had a positive effect on depressive and anxiety symptoms after one year. However, positive changes in SDS
and SAS scores in the individual intervention phase
did not reach statistical significance in all groups
(Table 2, Figures 2,3). While the scores at week 24 and
week 52 were significantly lower relative to baseline
(Table 2), week 24 scores were significantly higher
than at 10 weeks and week 52 results not significantly
different from week 10. This may be a result of a
reduction in attendance rates during the combination
phase. It is possible that seniors who were feeling
better may have had less motivation to attend sessions
thereby affecting the symptom scores at 24 and 52
weeks. It may also suggest that individual intervention
programs for a time limited duration such as 10 to 12
weeks would be optimal for retaining elderly in activity programs and improving mental health.
Another explanation for the increase in mean
SDS and SAS scores at week 24 compared to week 10
may be the reduction of opportunities for participants
to voice their opinions or thoughts in a bigger group.
This is especially relevant for therapies like MRT and
AT. Future replication of this model can deliver the
intervention in a larger group and break the participants into smaller discussion groups for more individualized attention.
TCE is noticeably absent in producing significant
improvements in the single intervention phase, and
this is unexpected given past research findings (Chou
et al., 2004; Lavretsky et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2014).
Conversely, AT and MRT showed significant decrements in symptoms. One possible explanation is that
many participants in this study may have had past
exposure to TCE. TCE is widespread in many community centers, and there are many Tai Chi interest
groups in Singapore. A few years preceding this intervention program, there were government-linked
committees promoting TCE to keep seniors active. In
fact, a record was set in 2010 for the nation’s largest
Tai Chi mass display in the western region of Singapore, the same geographical area our participants
were recruited from. Another plausible explanation is
that TCE has less of an interactive component as compared to interventions like MRT or AT. The latter two
Table 2. Changes in SDS and SAS scores from baseline, across the entire intervention duration
MRT TCE MAP AT Ftime Ftime × group
Separate phase
Week 4 −2.95* (6.58) −3.99 (9.30) −2.22 (8.60) −1.04 (5.79) 23.1†
Week 10 −4.80** (7.51) −4.09 (9.47) −6.91** (9.02) −4.17** (5.78)
Combined phase
Week 24 -2.55** (7.95) 11.3† Week 52 -6.35*** (9.82)
Separate phase
Week 4 0.19 (5.21) −0.04 (4.17) −0.32 (5.00) −1.72* (3.94) 11.1†
Week 10 −0.40 (3.24) −1.52 (4.86) −4.21** (7.12) −3.14*** (3.78)
Combined phase
Week 24 −1.32* (5.23) 8.89† Week 52 −3.32*** (5.23)
*Significant change from baseline at P < 0.05; **Significant change from baseline at P < 0.01; ***Significant change from baseline at P < 0.001.
†P < 0.001.
AT, Art Therapy; M, Mean; MAP, Mindfulness Awareness Practice; MRT, Music Reminiscence Therapy; SAS, Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale; SD,
Standard Deviation; SDS, Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale; TCE, Tai Chi Exercise.
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246 Asia-Pacific Psychiatry 7 (2015) 240–250
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interventions required more audience participation
and interaction with the instructors. Moreover, they
are rarely offered in a community setting conferring a
novelty to the experience. Future similar studies could
incorporate a qualitative component at baseline to
evaluate participants past exposure to interventions
and rate their expectation of improvement.
Low dropout rates in this study is testament to the
acceptability of the interventions in this program.
Higher attrition rates were seen for other conventional
therapies including group therapy for older adults in
previous studies (Stanley et al., 2009; Wilkinson et al.,
2009; Krishna et al., 2011). We postulate that eastern
influences of our interventions, use of culturally
appropriate and locally relevant examples during
interactive components contributed to the program’s
acceptability. In addition, these therapies were delivered in a venue removed from a traditional treatment
setting. The easily accessible location sited within a
shopping center may have given the experience a
more convivial feel, giving the elderly participants
more incentive to attend these sessions. Moreover, the
Figure 2. Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale scores from baseline to week ten. MRT; TCE; MAP; AT; AT, art therapy; MAP, mindfulness
awareness practice; MRT, music reminiscence therapy; TCE, Thai Chi exercise.
Figure 3. Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale scores from baseline to week ten. MRT; TCE; MAP; AT; AT, art therapy; MAP, mindfulness awareness
practice; MRT, music reminiscence therapy; TCE, Thai Chi exercise.
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participants’ awareness that they were contributing to
furthering scientific understanding may have had
positive effects on their self-esteem and motivation to
return to the center. Perhaps, for the purposes of
primary prevention, i.e. preventing SSD and SSA from
progressing to full-blown depression and anxiety, a
slightly different approach may be required; a model
similar to this community research center.
In Singapore, we have existing infrastructure in
the form of senior activity centers all across the island
that can support a large scale replication of this model
of preventive psychiatry. Once we have sufficient
evidence to clearly point to the beneficial effect of
some of these activities and have information on the
optimum frequency and duration, it will be relatively
inexpensive and feasible to implement in these activity centers.
Limitations of this study include the small sample
size and the lack of a control group. Instruments used
to assess depression and anxiety were all self-rated.
However, one meta-analysis showed that self-rated
instruments are more conservative than clinicianrated instruments when assessing the outcomes of
psychotherapy for depression (Cuijpers et al., 2010).
Given the context in which these scales were administered and the general negative perception toward
mental health, participants may have responded to
some items based on what they deemed to be socially
desirable. Assignment into groups were based on participants’ choice and not randomized. Participants
were not maintained in their initial treatment groups
and the program evolved to tailor to participants’
requests at 12 weeks. This self-selection into groups
and subsequent combination is likely to have led to
biases in SDS and SAS ratings. While we acknowledge that this was a methodological weakness, the
program was initially conceptualized as a service and
had to take into account end user preferences.
Nevertheless, the reduction in symptoms provide
good preliminary results for further randomized controlled trials to evaluate these interventions individually for prevention of late life depression and anxiety
in the community. A randomized controlled trial
evaluating mindfulness awareness practice is currently underway.
This approach to improving late-life mental health has
shown promising results; participating in a chosen
intervention led to positive improvements in SSD and
SSA symptoms in this sample of community-dwelling
older adults. This model of preventive psychiatry has
the potential to encourage help seeking among the
elderly with subthreshold symptoms and sustain their
interest in mentally stimulating activities. Delivering
psychosocial interventions in the community is a
simple, inexpensive and culturally acceptable
approach that should be adequately studied and replicated in other communities.
The Jurong Ageing Study in Singapore (JASS) is funded
by Lee Kim Tah Holdings Ltd., Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho
Temple, Buddhist Library and Alice Lim Memorial Fund.
We thank the donors and volunteers from National University Singapore (NUS), Presbyterian Community Services, and Singapore Action Group of Elders Counselling
Centre. We acknowledge A/Prof Goh Lee Gan, A/Prof
Lau Tang Ching and Wong Lit Soon for their technical
assistance and contributions. Special thanks to Jiang
Minjun and Fadzillah Nur Mohamed Abdullah for data
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