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Long-Living People in the Blue Zone Fight Mental Disorders With Recreation

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Moving the atole! says a laughing Mirma Reyes while she dances with the group of senior citizens that meet every Thursday in the barrio La Virginia community center.Photos by César Arroyo

Doña Luz Guevara gets up every morning with the hope that there is enough food in the pantry to feed her husband, who can barely get out of bed because he suffers from cirrhosis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

 

The recent death of her mother and the lack of a decent pension added to a series of events that made doña Luz enter into what she calls a small depression.”

 

Another case is that of Flor Grijalba, who had breast cancer 20 years ago.

 

“I used to live with a lot of depression because I suffered a lot with my husband, so I asked God to get rid of my depression and give me cancer instead,” laments Grijalba.

 

Accepting depression in old age is not easy, says Aleida Obando, a social worker with Nicoya Regional Health.

 

“The problem is that an older person isn’t going to say that they’re depressed. They won’t go to the hospital for depression,” says Obando.

 

In fact, visiting a doctor to treat mental illnesses does not seem to be a priority for Guanacastecan patients. There are nearly 6,000 senior citizens in Nicoya and, even though there is only one psychiatrist in the region, there is no waiting list for this specialty.

 

“You can get an appointment within a week,” says Diego Coto, press officer for the Costa Rican Social Security System (in Spanish, CCSS).

 

Senior citizens in Nicoya’s blue zone, on the other hand, alleviate symptoms with the help of community groups for mental and physical exercises.

 

While this might not be sufficient, if an elderly person stays at home and doesn’t participate in social activities he or she is more prone to suffer from depression, says Obando.

 

Last year the University of Málaga published a study that shows the benefits of a proactive program of physical exercise on mental health in the elderly. The study affirms that physical exercise programs with a greater diversity of activities and that allow the senior citizens to organize their own activities are the ones that show the best results for psychological welfare and self esteem.

 

According to Obando, there are 16 groups of active elderly in Nicoya in the communities of La Virginia, San Martín, Santa Ana, Nosara, Barra Honda (Mansión), Quebrada Honda, Pozo de Agua, Zapote, Moracia, San Lázaro, San Vicente, Curime, Caballito, and two in central Nicoya.

 

Doña Luz Guevara coordinates the group in La Virginia, which is comprised of men and women. They meet every Thursday from 8-9 a.m. where they dance, make arts and crafts, do theater, and perform mental exercises.

 

“I felt like I wasn’t myself and I was disappointed in everything I did. I’d get depressed. So my doctor told me to join one of these senior groups,” says Javier López, who started going to the group on his doctor’s recommendations.

 

Shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer, Flor Grijalba started going to the group “Health and Recreation for Senior Citizens in Nicoya” every Monday and Thursday. The group is held in the Santa Lucía neighborhood.

 

The group is directed by Reina Isabel Alvarado, 74, who has been a physical education teacher for 50 years.

 

The Health Ministry will hold the World Encounter With Blue Zones with participants from the five blue zones in the world.

 

The event will include research forums, exchange of experiences with senior citizens, a gastronomic festival, an art exposition with works from long-living adults, and a meeting with leaders from the five blue zones in the world.

 

Other national institutions will offer activities for seniors throughout Guanacaste:

 

UNDE

Computer classes. The course is on learning Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and a class on smartphones.

 

  • Schedule: Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.
  • Cost: ₡22,207
  • Enrollment: From August 30 – September 5

 

AGECO

A psychologist will give a course on mental stimulation for different cognitive processes: concentration, creativity, analysis, and relaxation.

 

  • For: People over 50 years old.
  • Participants: Minimum 20, maximum 30.
  • To request classes for a current group call Maria Rodriguez at 2542-4500 or 8410-8655.

 

Outside of Nicoya

 

Hojancha

  • Place: Centro Diurno.
  • Schedule: Wednesdays from 8-10 a.m.

 

Paso Tempisque

  • Place: Salón Comunal
  • Schedule: Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

 

Santa Cruz

  • Place: La Casa del Maestro Pensionado
  • Schedule: Tuesdays from 7-9 a.m.
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