For older adults with mild cognitive impairment, specialized virtual Tai Chi training can significantly improve global cognition as well as memory and executive functions. Since the training can be carried out independently at home, it seems to be relatively easy to integrate into everyday life.
A research team led by Dr. Kerri Winters-Stone of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland studied the effect on cognitive function of a modified virtual Tai Chi program compared to regular Tai Chi and stretching exercises. The results are published in the journal “Annals of Internal Medicine”.
Cognitive impairments in old age
Mild cognitive impairments affect up to 20 percent of people over the age of 65, with memory and thinking problems as well as impaired dual-task performance (processing of multiple tasks at the same time) being typical consequences, the researchers report.
On the one hand, the decline in cognitive functions leads to difficulties in complex tasks of daily life and, on the other hand, cognitive decline and declining dual-task performance are associated with a higher risk of falls, higher healthcare costs and higher mortality.
Clinical guidelines recommend, among other things, exercise to maintain cognitive functions and mitigate decline in older adults, but it remains unclear which type of exercise achieves the best results.
Can Tai Chi help?
The researchers have now examined the extent to which stretching exercises, Tai Chi and an adapted virtual Tai Chi program can contribute to improvements in cognitive abilities in 318 older adults with mild cognitive impairments or self-reported memory problems.
All participants had a Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) of 0.5 or lower at the start of the study and were randomly assigned to one of three groups, the team explains.
One group carried out a cognitively improved Tai Chi program for one hour twice a week for 24 weeks under online video instructions. Instead, a second group completed standard Tai Chi training and the third group completed stretching exercises at the same time, the researchers report.
The experts then determined the effects of the various interventions on global cognition and cognitive load or dual-task performance while walking.
Adapted Tai Chi program works
According to the experts, kda’s customized virtual Tai Chi training significantly improved global cognition compared to standard Tai Chi and stretching exercises and significantly reduced the cognitive strain associated with walking after 24 weeks.
Compared to the other two interventions, better results were also seen in executive functions and working memory, and the effects were maintained after 48 weeks, the researchers report.
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Practical approach for everyday life
According to the research team, a high level of reliability and adherence (adherence to the therapy goals) was observed in all groups with the exercise program carried out virtually at home.
Overall, the study suggests that the adapted virtual Tai Chi program could be a viable, acceptable exercise therapy for older adults who are concerned about cognitive impairment, the researchers concluded. At the same time, training could also reduce the risk of falls and have other positive effects. (fp)