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Tai chi may help prevent falls in older and at-risk adults

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Tai chi may help reduce the number of falls in both the older adult population and at-risk adults, according to Spanish researchers.

The findings, which are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, indicate a simple and holistic way to prevent injuries, said the authors.

“Tai chi practice may be recommended to prevent falls in at-risk adults and older adults”

Rafael Lomas-Vega

Previous research has found the ancient Chinese practice, which is focused on flexibility and whole body co-ordination, is an effective exercise to improve balance control and flexibility in older people.

The new meta-analysis of existing research suggests that the practice might also help protect against falls, the primary cause of traumatic death for older adults.

The researchers assessed 10 trials analysing the effect of tai chi versus other treatments – such as physical therapy and low intensity exercise – on risk of falls in at-risk and older adults.

There was “high-quality evidence” that tai chi significantly reduced the rate of falls by 43%, compared with other interventions, at short-term follow-up – less than 12 months – they said.

This figure was 13% at long-term follow-up – more than 12 months – said the researchers.

Regarding injurious falls, there was some evidence that tai chi reduced risk by 50% over the short term and by 28% over the long term, they said.

However, they noted that Tai chi did not seem to influence when an older or at-risk adult was likely to experience their first injurious fall.

Lead author Dr Rafael Lomas-Vega, from the University of Jaén, said: “Tai chi practice may be recommended to prevent falls in at-risk adults and older adults.

“The length of the interventions ranged from 12 to 26 weeks. The frequency of the one-hour sessions ranged from one to three times per week,” said Dr Lomas-Vega.

“Due to the small number of published studies, further research is needed to investigate the effect of tai chi on injurious falls and time to first fall,” he added.

Last week, the regulator NHS Improvement published findings from a review of falls incidence and their associated costs across all NHS inpatient settings in England.

It identified five key factors that could reduce falls in hospitals, though the regulator’s report noted that eliminating them completely was an unrealistic target.

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