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Tai Chi Helps Stroke Victims Improve Balance

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Tai Chi can help stroke survivors increase balance, reducing fall risk, according to new findings from University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

Past studies performed by Christina Hui-Chan, professor and head of physical therapy at UIC show that older persons benefit from Tai Chi for improving balance and coordination. Hui-Chan’s group found that Tai Chi could improve balance in individuals who have suffered stroke.

Exercise alone has benefits for strength and coordination, but Dr. Hui-Chan’s research group found that people who had a stroke and practiced Tai Chi outperformed an exercise only group in their study when it came to balance, weight shifting, leaning in different directions, and standing on movable surfaces, as might occur on a bus.

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Two groups were studied. Patients who suffered stroke within six-months received Tai Chi training from physical therapists once a week. They were asked to practice Tai Chi at home for one hour three days a week. The Tai Chi forms taught were simple, and often used to help arthritis patients. Most learned the Tai Chi technique in as little as eight weeks, but instructions were given in Tai Chi for twelve weeks to the stroke patients. The exercise only group practiced breathing, walked, stretched, performed sitting exercises, and practiced tasks related to memorization and reasoning.

When it came time to compare the two groups, Hui-Chan said, "The tai chi group did particularly better in conditions that required them to use their balance control. In only six weeks, we saw significant improvements. The ability to shift your weight is very important because all reaching tasks require it."

Dr. Hui-Chan believes Tai Chi can be taught to Westerners at local YMCA’s, parks and community centers, at half the cost of traditional physiotherapy, while promoting socialization at the same time. Socialization would be especially beneficial for isolated seniors who practice Tai Chi. Tai Chi also promotes cardiovascular health, and improves strength.

The researcher shows us that Tai Chi can prevent falls that can lead to disability in individuals who have suffered stroke, at half the cost of traditional physiotherapy. Tai Chi improves strength, and cardiovascular health, while providing socialization, especially important for seniors who may feel isolated.

Reference UIC