Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease reduced by Tai Chi
Research at the Oregon Research Institute (ORI) has found that patients with Parkinson's disease had fewer falls after taking up Tai Chi. The study of 195 participants in four Oregon cities demonstrated significant benefits for patients with a mild-to-moderate form of the disease. At the end of the 24 week study participants demonstrated improved postural stability, increased walking ability and reduced slips and tumbles.
In Parkinson's disease, nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine begin to die, leading to tremors, balance problems, stiff facial expressions, muffled speech and difficulty walking. Medication and brain surgery help, but have their limits since they may make a person more mobile but don't help with balance. As the disease progresses, many patients loose the ability to walk smoothly, have trouble with many of life's daily activities and fall often.
Tai Chi the ancient Chinese slow-motion meditation and martial art is today, mostly practiced for health. Medical research has shown it improves equilibrium, benefits many health conditions and is safe during convalescence. In its calming exercises weight flows smoothly from one posture to another, arms are moved in harmony with the legs and breathing is relaxed: tasks that require increased mental focus, awareness of balance and coordination of movement.
In the 4-year project funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (published in the New England Journal of Medicine) ORI scientist Fuzhong Li and his team, randomly assigned 195 patients to one of three exercise groups: Tai Chi Chuan, resistance training, or stretching. The patients participated in 60-minute exercise sessions twice weekly for 24 weeks in a program that consisted of six Tai Chi movements united into a short routine emphasizing movement and awareness of one's center of gravity, controlled ankle sway, front, back and side to side steps and conscious weight-shifting.
The results of the study showed the Tai Chi group performed consistently better than the stretching group in how far they could lean in any direction without losing balance and demonstrated better directional control of the body, increased stride length and walking ability. Tai Chi participants also outperformed those in the resistance training group. Finally, Tai Chi training was shown to significantly lower the incidence of falls. a major problem in Parkinson's Disease. Patients assigned to resistance training reported 133 drops, while the Tai Chi group had only 62. The Tai Chi group outperformed the stretching group in every test.
These results are clinically significant. They suggest that Tai Chi could be used in combination with current therapies to reduce postural instability, increase flexibility and expand range of motion.
In the words of Dr. Li. "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."
Practitioners report that Tai Chi is soothing, calming energizing and enjoyable to do. It can be done in a small space, needs no special equipment and just a little practice leads to feelings of well being and increased health. This is very important says Madeleine Hackney, a kinesiologist at Emory University and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Atlanta. "Patients may know something is great for them, but if they don't like it, that's a problem."
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