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”  How to use Tai Chi to prevent falls in the elderly is the subject of this post.
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.” 
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. 
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.” 
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
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.” 
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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“Tai Chi ‘Prevents Falls in The Elderly’ “. States News Service. (Jan. 14, 2011).
“Tai Chi for arthritis and falls prevention.” Merimbula News Weekly, Australia, 24 Jan. 2018
“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+