Tai Chi may not reduce fall risk in elderly

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Traditional Chinese balance and mobility exercise training does not appear to reduce the risk of falls among home-living elderly at high risk of falling, according to a study from the Netherlands.

“It is not enough to practice Tai Chi for a short period to prevent falls in the future,” Inge H. J. Logghe, of Erasmus MC University Medical Center, in Rotterdam, told Reuters Health.

Over a 12-month period, elderly men and women who took Tai Chi Chuan training recorded a total of 115 falls, while the men and women who did not train in Tai Chi Chuan recorded 90 falls, Logghe and colleagues report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Tai Chi Chuan potentially improves balance by training people to perform a series of positions in a slow, flowing manner, but previous studies of its usefulness in preventing falls had provided mixed results.

Thus, Logghe’s team randomly assigned 131 elders to a control group that received “usual” care and another 138 elders to participate in Tai Chi Chuan training for 1 hour, twice weekly for 13 weeks.

The participants were 77 years old on average, and 71 percent female. They all lived at home, and had disturbed balance, dizziness, mobility problems, or were on medications that placed them a high risk for falling.

The investigators tallied the elders’ daily calendar records of whether or not they had fallen over the course of the study and, as noted, found there were more falls among the Tai Chi participants.

Moreover, Logghe reported “a trend of higher fall risk in the elderly who participated in the Tai Chi training,” when she and colleagues specifically assessed falls among the 61 percent of participants who had fallen at least once during the year prior to study enrollment.

The investigators also found no between group differences in balance, fear of falling, physical activity level, or functional status, further suggesting Tai Chi Chuan is limited in preventing falls among home-living elderly at high risk for falling.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, January 2009.