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PDF Statement: Tai Chi and Balance Problems in Parkinsonís

A recent report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, describes a series of people with Parkinson's disease who participated in one of three exercise programs: stretching, resistance training for strength building, or Tai Chi.  Members of the Parkinson’s community may wonder how the data impact their lives and those of their loved ones.
 
Tai chi is a balanced-based exercise discipline involving controlled movements.  Because the focus of the study was on balance improvement, these exercises focused specifically on movements that taxed balance and gait with symmetric and diagonal movements.  Subjects involved in the three programs exercised for one hour twice weekly for six months.  
 
At the end of the six months, the Tai Chi exercises showed superior balance compared to the other two groups.  Even three months after the program ended, these findings persisted.  The number of falls was reduced in both the Tai Chi and resistance exercisers compared to those doing stretching.  
 
Dr. Christopher Goetz, Chair of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) Medical Policy Committee and member of PDF’s Scientific Advisory Board comments:  
 
"Whereas exercise and physical therapy are well accepted to be beneficial to people with Parkinson's disease, it has been unclear whether one form of exercise is superior to others.  This report, specifically focused on balance, is encouraging, because it directs clinicians and people with Parkinson’s to advocate Tai Chi for those individuals with balance deficits.  
 
“Falling is particularly dangerous and frequent in Parkinson's disease, and because the problem cannot always be improved with standard medications, this report opens new horizons for improving balance for our patients.  On the other hand, Tai Chi is a sufficiently rigorous form of exercise that people with Parkinson's disease must be carefully supervised during the exercise program itself.  Trainers must be vigilant to the postural and balance challenges that people with Parkinson's disease endure, so that the exercises and maneuvers that are part of the program must be carefully individualized to the patient."  
 
Tai Chi is an exercise discipline that has many variations, and the Appendix in this study describes the specific exercise maneuvers that were used in this study.  PDF readers can access the specific exercises by reading the full study. PDF recommends that this description be shared with the Tai Chi trainer before a Parkinson's disease patients enrolls in any Tai Chi program.  For additional strategies on protecting people with Parkinson’s from falls, download PDF’s fact sheet, Falls Prevention.

View Additional Tai Chi Resources
 
Reference: Li, F., Harmer, P., Fitzgerald, K., et al. (2012). Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine, 366:511–519.

Source Date: Feb 08 2012