Tai Chi and Mild Cognitive Impairment: Study Shows Positive Effects

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A small study in individuals age 60 or older with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) provides more evidence that engaging in tai chi (a series of gentle, slow movements accompanied by deep breathing) reduces the risk of falling. What’s more, it may also improve cognitive abilities.

The 66 study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. A tai chi group practiced the activity for 15 weeks, learning it first in a group setting and then doing it at home three times a week for 50 minutes per session. The control group received educational material about cognitive impairment and fall prevention.

At the start of the trial, investigators assessed participants’ cognitive performance, including memory, visuospatial ability, and executive function (skills such as planning, organizing, and problem solving). They also assessed physiologic factors related to the risk of falling, such as proprioception (the ability to sense the position and movement of one’s body parts), strength, reaction time, and postural sway. At the end of the trial, the tai chi group showed greater improvement than the control group on three of the four cognitive assessment tests. The tai chi group also had a low risk of falls compared with a “mild” risk for the control group.

This study, which was published in 2017 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggests that people with MCI can learn tai chi and may gain important benefits from it. To get the most out of the practice, it’s important to learn how to perform the movements. Many community centers offer classes for beginners.