Treatment for dementiaunfortunately it has not been found yet. But there are ways to treat or even slow down the disease. Now, a new clinical study shows that the ancient practice of tai chi can help the elderly reverse the effects of mild cognitive decline. That is, the one that can trigger dementia.
Researchers found that tai chi classes helped the elderly improve cognitive function problems, namely memory and thinking ability. It also helped them perform a basic combination of movements, namely walking while their attention is diverted.
And while the tai chi exercises were effective, an “enhanced” version of it with more mental challenges worked even better, the study found.
Dementia and tai chi
Experts called the findings promising and support the approach of mentally stimulating the elderly mind in many ways rather than just one.
Tai chi is a traditional Chinese practice that combines slow movements and body postures with controlled breathing.
Performed as a moving meditation, studies have found that it can help seniors improve their balance and reduce the risk of falls.
“There is also evidence that tai chi can help older people sharpen their minds,” said Peter Harmer, a researcher involved in the new study.
He and his colleagues wanted to examine the effect of adding specific mental exercises to the practice of tai chi, based on recent studies showing that combining physical and mental exercise is better than doing physical exercise alone.
“Conventional tai chi classes, like most physical exercise classes, are mainly about ‘teacher-student interaction,’ said Harmer, professor emeritus of exercise and health sciences at Willamette University, in Oregon, US.
This approach may not “maximize” the potential benefits of tai chi.
Thus, 318 elderly people were recruited who either noticed a decline in their memory or had signs of mild cognitive impairment, i.e. memory and judgment problems that, while not serious, can gradually develop into dementia.
The participants were randomly divided into three groups: the members of the first group did standard tai chi exercises, the second group a combination of exercises and cognitive challenges, while the members of the third group did stretching exercises. All three groups did two hour-long sessions a week for six months.
Because the study began shortly before the pandemic, most of the sessions were conducted via Zoom.
The researchers found that enhanced tai chi was more effective. The elderly improved their scores on a standard cognitive assessment test by 3.1 points versus 1.7 points in the group that only did tai chi exercises. The stretching group showed no significant improvement.
Similarly, enhanced tai chi was better at improving older adults’ performance on a walking test, which measures a person’s ability to walk while the mind is on other things, such as talking on the phone.
This type of distraction can be a challenge for older adults, and improving it can reduce the risk of falls.
The findings show that boosting older people’s cognitive skills in multiple ways can be far more effective than just one type of exercise.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a gentle exercise system that helps to revitalize and rejuvenate the body. It is a unique art of physical and mental cultivation that promotes emotional harmony, mental peace, mental clarity and concentration. It cultivates muscle tone and flexibility, breathing, the connection with the center of the body, as well as our relationship with space.
Tai Ji means “Great Absolute” and its practice is interwoven with the understanding of the Yin and Yang qualities within the techniques and how they alternate in harmony, simultaneously causing movement and balance. The feeling during the execution of the forms is calm joy, while the mind learns to expand and be aware.