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Two New Studies Show Tai Chi Benefit Patients with Parkinson's Disease

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December 2, 2013 - Two newly release scientific studies reported benefits from Tai Chi to patients with Parkinson's Disease from different angles.

One of the studies was performed jointly by VA Rehabilitation R&D Center of Excellence and Department of Neurology, Emory University. Their pilot investigation was to determine the effects of Tai Chi exercise on the non-motor symptomology in Parkinson's disease. A substantial number of individuals with Parkinson's disease exhibit debilitating non-motor symptoms that decrease quality of life. To date, few treatment options exist for the non-motor symptomatology related to Parkinson's disease.

In that study, 15 individuals with Parkinson's disease were enrolled in a Tai Chi intervention and 6 in the noncontact control group. Participants assigned to Tai Chi participated in 60-minute Tai Chi sessions three times per week, for 16 weeks. Pre and post measures included indices of cognitive-executive function including visuomotor tracking and attention, selective attention, working memory, inhibition, processing speed and task switching. Additionally, all participants were evaluated on the Parkinson's disease Questionnaire-39 and Tinetti's Falls Efficacy Scale.

Their results indicated that the Tai Chi training group had significantly better scores following the intervention than the control group on the Parkinson's disease Questionnaire-39 total score as well as the emotional well-being sub score. Trends for improvement were noted for the Tai Chi group on Digits Backwards, Tinetti's Falls Efficacy Scale, and the activities of daily living and communication sub scores of the Parkinson's disease Questionnaire-39.

This research provides initial data that supports future studies to definitively establish efficacy of Tai Chi to improve non-motor features of Parkinson's disease. Its findings are published in the Journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy.

Another new study, done by Dong-A University School of Medicine of Korea, aimed at comparing Tai Chi and combined stretching-strengthening exercise for patients with Parkinson's disease (PD).

Patients with mild-to-moderate PD were recruited to join either the combined stretching-strengthening exercise group (7 of them), the Tai Chi group (9 of them), or the control (nonintervention) group (7 of them). Exercise was performed three times a week over a period of 8 weeks. The Tai Chi exercise was led by certified instructors based on a Tai-Chi-for-arthritis program. The combined stretching-strengthening exercise comprised folk dancing, stepping, and elastic-band exercises. The subjects' functional fitness, parkinsonian symptoms, quality of life (QoL), and depression were evaluated.

Both exercise groups yielded better results in their overall functional fitness after the intervention. However, no improvement with exercise was found for parkinsonian symptoms, as evaluated using the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. With respect to the domains of QoL, the combined stretching-strengthening exercise group fared better in the social domain of QoL, and the Tai Chi group fared better in the emotional domain, while QoL and depression worsened in the control group. The post-intervention QoL was improved relative to the control condition only for the Tai Chi group. Although the exercise interventions did not have any effect on depression, the control group was associated with a significant deterioration.

The results from this study shows that exercise improved the functional fitness and QoL of PD patients, with Tai Chi yielding better results in QoL and favorable results in functional fitness. These findings suggest that Tai Chi could be a good exercise strategy for patients with PD.

This study is published by Journal of Clinical Neurology.




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