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How to Use Tai Chi to Prevent Falls in The Elderly

How to Use Tai Chi to Prevent Falls in The Elderly

The next time  your dad  or mom feels a little  off  balance you might suggest that they take Tai Chi.  In 2011 The Daily Telegraph of London reported that the elderly are being told to “take up tai chi to prevent falls” [1] How to use Tai Chi to prevent falls in the elderly is the subject of this post.

Elderly practicing Tai Chi on grass
Practicing Tai Chi

Back to the Daily Telegraph Story of How Tai Chi Prevents Falls

This news story was based on an updated guideline, released by the American and British Geriatrics societies, whose mission was , among other things, suggest ways of preventing falls in the elderly. “In light of the evidence available, one of the strategies recommended was participation in exercise programs that target balance, gait and strength training, which all reduce the risk of falls. Tai chi was highlighted as a type of exercise that studies showed could lower the risk of falling in the elderly.” [2]

In an earlier post I highlighted other factors that may increase the risk of falling in the elderly. I also focused on how to  make an assessment of the safety of their home and how that safety  is impacted by the fear of falling. I also addressed how  Yoga and  Tai chi have shown potential to improve balance and prevent falls in older adults.  Tai chi in particular has  shown through later research to be very effective in improving balance in the elderly. Thus this will be the sole topic for the reminder of the article.

So, without further introduction, let’s jump in with a discussion of what exactly is Tai chi. It is  a form of martial art and a low intensity exercise that is practiced with an emphasis on deep breathing, mental imagery, and slow, graceful movements to promote flexibility, balance and overall wellbeing.

Tai Chi as Alternative to Psychotropic Drugs That Causes Elderly to Fall

Reducing the amount of medication the elderly take  is increasingly the preferred  strategy for  doctors treating   older people. They are particularly interested in studies that look at non-drug ways to prevent falls outside of hospitals. The reason is that  medications have consistently been associated with a risk of falls, and the strongest risks were associated with psychotropic drugs (drugs affecting the brain) or a mixture of drugs. Reducing psychotropic drugs reduces the risk of falls. Tai chi has in some cases proven to be a safer substitute  for drugs that can create confusion and increase the likelihood  of a fall.

Tai Chi  as Treatment for Blood Pressure and Managing Balance Problems for Multiple Sclerosis in  Elderly

Here are testimonies  that speak to Tai chi as a non-medical way to prevent falls in the elderly:

“I have MS (Multiple sclerosis), before I started Tai Chi I was on a walking stick all the time and now my balance compared to other people with MS is unbelievable,” Ms Reid said.

Karen Tarlington practises Tai Chi every day and said it has helped to decrease her medication.

“I had a high blood pressure and I started fainting, so I started Tai Chi,” she said.

“Because of Tai Chi my blood pressure has come down so much that my doctors have halved my medication and I will soon go off it completely,” Ms Tarlington said. [3]

Tai Chi as The Right Exercise to Prevent Falls In The Elderly

Most fall prevention programs that are  effective  have exercise interventions as an important component. That said, one has to be really careful with the choice of exercise especially when dealing with frail older adults due to high risk of falling.

The last thing you want to do is create a situation where an elderly person can re-injure him or herself.  An elderly person  who has  a history of falls, or are shown to have abnormalities in gait or unsteadiness, would benefit from an exercise program  that addressed those issues. As I said earlier, Tai Chi is very effective in addressing  problems of balance in the elderly.

What Does a Tai Chi Program Look Like?


Here is an example of a tai chi intervention that was implemented at a residential facility:

“The tai chi intervention consisted of a 14-week program of twice a week half-hour tai chi  classes. Every session of the modified tai chi program began with warm-up exercises of different joints and progressed through 18 individual tai chi and qigong movement patterns, with repetitions for each pattern, using imagery, breathing and posture control. The sessions concluded with the lotus (Australian Academy of  Tai Chi[AATC], 2010) that consisted of flowing relaxed movements that tell a story and a flow pattern of walking.” [4]

The Movements of Tai Chi to Prevent Falling In The Elderly

The movements were slow, controlled and circular using functional patterns and engaging the mind. The whole point was to make the individual feel loose their fear of moving and to become more confident in themselves.

Once more this wasn’t a one-fit all program. It was modified to meet the capability and of the individual and ensure a safe level of comfort. This increased the likelihood of compliance and thus a greater chance of success.

The Use of Imagery to Enhance  Balance in Elderly

Doves flying against a blue sky
Doves Spreading Wings

Imagery from nature was used to describe and enhance the movement (e.g., a flying dove spreading wings). “A calm and soothing oriental music was used throughout the class. Throughout the program a holistic approach was used emphasizing good posture, natural breathing patterns, relaxation and balance.” [5]

Conclusion

Though by any means  not conclusive, there is now  enough information to suggest that tai chi and may be associated with improvement in balance, pain and quality of life in frail older people. For example  the mentioned 14 week tai chi intervention program resulted in eliminating falls by 100%. This would suggest that tai chi should be strongly considered and perhaps incorporated as part of any fall prevention program

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I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.

References

1

“Tai Chi ‘Prevents Falls in The Elderly’ “. States News Service. (Jan. 14, 2011).

2

Ibid

3

“Tai Chi for arthritis and falls prevention.” Merimbula News Weekly, Australia, 24 Jan. 2018

4

“The influence of tai chi and yoga on balance and falls in a residential care setting: A randomized controlled trial” Contemporary Nurse. 48.1 (Aug. 2014): p76+

4 thoughts on “How to Use Tai Chi to Prevent Falls in The Elderly

  1. Hello Thabo,

    I have heard of Tai Chi, and as I’m interested in health topics and saw your article about this kind of exercise, I thought I must read it and learn more
    .
    It is a well-known fact that exercise benefits our health enormously. I would even say it is a necessity to perform some kind of regular exercise if we want to prevent chronical diseases and live a long and healthy life.

    Tai Chi seems to be the perfect exercise especially for elderly people or for people who have difficulties in movements, like joint pains or other impairments.

    Reducing the amount of medication intake and instead perform Tai Chi exercises is an excellent approach towards a healthier and a more holistic way of treating patients. This is the right direction to choose and I hope this kind of treatments will increase in the near future.

    By having read your article, I believe that Tai Chi also could be a wonderful stress reduction technique.

    I have bookmarked your website, very much looking forward to reading more of your interesting articles.

    Pernilla

    1. Hi Pernilla,

      I think more and more people, including those in the medical profession, are discovering the benefits of Tai Chi especially for the elderly. As a matter of fact, Tai Chi is a multi-component mind-body exercise that is growing in popularity, especially among older adults . Tai Chi integrates moderate aerobic conditioning along with training in balance, flexibility, and neuromuscular coordination. At the same time, Tai Chi calls in to play multiple cognitive components including heightened body awareness, focused mental attention, and imagery. In short it’s the prefect intervention for those that have a fear of falling and are experiencing stress just at the thought of engaging in everyday activities outside the home.

      Also, you make the excellent point that Tai Chi can reduce the need for medication. This is a big deal because it’s often the very medication that make the elderly feel dizzy and thus increase the risk of falling. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for checking in.

      Best,

      Thabo

  2. I can vouch how tai chi can improve your balance and your total health, I have been taking some tai chi classes especially designed for people with joint pain and arthritis.

    I have had my best winter ever since taking the class, I can actually do tai chi without straining myself and especially my joints.

    I highly recommend if you experience balance problems or/and joint pain issues you consider taking tai chi classes, I found my class at my local YMCA.

    1. Hi Jeff,

      I’m glad that tai chi has worked so well for you. Thanks for sharing your story and your helpful information as to where one can take a tai chi class. Thanks for checking in.

      Thabo

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