Purpose: To determine whether improved functional balance through a Tai Chi intervention is related to subsequent reductions in falls among elderly persons.
Methods: Two hundred fifty-six healthy, physically inactive older adults aged 70-92 (mean age +/- SD = 77.48 +/- 4.95), recruited from a local health system in Portland, OR, participated in a 6-month randomized controlled trial, with allocation to Tai Chi or exercise stretching control, followed by a 6-month postintervention follow-up. Functional balance measures included Berg balance scale, dynamic gait index, and functional reach, assessed during the 6-month intervention period (baseline, 3-month, and 6-month intervention endpoint) and again at the 6-month postintervention follow-up. Fall counts were recorded during the 6-month postintervention follow-up period. Data were analyzed through intention-to-treat analysis of variance and logistic regression procedures.
Results: Tai Chi participants who showed improvements in measures of functional balance at the intervention endpoint significantly reduced their risk of falls during the 6-month postintervention period, compared with those in the control condition (odds ratio (OR), 0.27, 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.07-0.96 for Berg balance scale; OR, 0.27, 95% CI, 0.09-0.87 for dynamic gait index; OR, 0.20, 95% CI, 0.05-0.82 for functional reach).
Conclusions: Improved functional balance through Tai Chi training is associated with subsequent reductions in fall frequency in older persons.