Tai Chi and Parkinson's Disease
Scientists are examining, in a single-blind, randomized controlled trial, whether Tai Chi can improve postural balance and lower-extremity muscle strength, and reduce frequency of falls among early to moderately advanced Parkinson's disease patients.
The relevance of this research to public health lies in its focus on understanding of the benefits of Tai Chi as an alternative exercise treatment modality in restoring postural stability and physical function problems in persons with Parkinson’s disease.
12/9/07 - 11/30/13
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
In an original article published in the February 9, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), ORI scientist Fuzhong Li, Ph.D. and colleagues reported that a tailored program of twice-weekly Tai Chi training resulted in improved postural stability and walking ability, and reduced falls in the participants.
The results of the study showed that the Tai Chi group performed consistently better than the stretching group in how far they could lean in any direction without losing balance as well as demonstrating better levels of directional control of the body and walking ability (i.e., longer stride length). Tai Chi participants also outperformed those in the resistance training group on the balance and stride length measures. Finally, Tai Chi training was shown to significantly lower the incidence of falls compared to stretching and to be as equally effective as resistance training in reducing falls.
Impaired movement, especially the loss of ability to maintain standing balance, adversely affects function and quality of life in patients with Parkinson’s disease. With progression of the disease, patients lose stability and have trouble walking, difficulty managing activities of daily living, and experience frequent falls. Exercise is an important part of the management of Parkinson’s disease because physical activity has been shown to retard the deterioration of motor function and to prolong functional independence. However, research on alternative forms of exercise, such as Tai Chi, that could improve balance, gait, and function in patients with Parkinson’s disease is scarce.
The Tai Chi program developed by Dr. Li consisted of six Tai Chi movements integrated into an eight-form routine that focused on weight-shifting, controlled-displacement of the center of gravity over the base of support, ankle sway, and front-to-back and sideways stepping. Natural breathing was integrated into the training routine.
“There are a number of practical advantages to using Tai Chi to improve motor dysfunction of Parkinson’s disease - it is a low cost activity that does not require equipment, it can be done anywhere, at any time, and the movements can be easily learned. It can also be incorporated into a rehabilitation setting as part of existing treatment. Similarly, because of its simplicity, certain aspects of this Tai Chi program can also be prescribed to patients as a self-care/home activity,” Dr. Li added.
This research was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health (grant NS047130).