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Tai Chi Improves Cognition in Chemotherapy Patients


Patients who receive chemotherapy frequently experience problems with cognition, such as memory loss and decreased verbal fluency. A new study suggests tai chi can help overcome these challenges while also improving quality of life in general.

Tai chi improves mental functioning

Although nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and gastrointestinal problems are often associated with chemotherapy, cognitive difficulties, such as memory loss, problems with concentration, depression, and feelings of confusion are common as well. Based on the results of a new study, one psychologist suggests tai chi may help manage these latter challenges.

Stephanie Reid-Arndt, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Health Psychology in the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri, conducted a pilot study that involved women who had a history of chemotherapy.

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Women in the study participated in a 60-minute tai chi class twice a week for 10 weeks. Before and after the 10-week trial, the women were tested on memory, mood, fatigue, attention, and language. The test results indicated that the women had achieved significant improvements in their cognitive abilities and psychological health.

Tai chi is an ancient practice that involves slow, continuous motions that also incorporates awareness of breath and mindfulness meditation. Research has shown that tai chi can assist with a host of health issues, ranging from balance problems to arthritis, depression, fibromyalgia, and heart disease, among others.

Because tai chi is a gentle activity, it can be enjoyed by people of any age and who may have physical limitations. According to Reid-Arndt, “We know this activity can help people with their quality of life in general, and with this new study, we are encouraged about how Tai Chi could also help those who have received chemotherapy.”

Many of the more than 11 million Americans with cancer undergo chemotherapy and suffer its side effects. This study suggests tai chi may help patients who experience problems with cognition related to cancer treatment, although Reid-Arndt noted that “we really need to test a larger group of individuals to gain a better understanding of the specific benefits” of tai chi in this patient population.

Reid-Arndt S. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 2011; doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2011.02.005