Background: Patients with schizophrenia are characterized by high prevalence rates and chronicity that often leads to long-term institutionalization. Under the traditional medical model, treatment usually emphasizes the management of psychotic symptoms through medication, even though anti-psychotic drugs are associated with severe side effects, which can diminish patients' physical and psychological well-being. Tai-chi, a mind-body exercise rooted in Eastern health philosophy, emphasizes the motor coordination and relaxation. With these potential benefits, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) is planned to investigate the effects of Tai-chi intervention on the cognitive and motor deficits characteristic of patients with schizophrenia.
Methods/design: A 3-arm RCT with waitlist control design will be used in this study. One hundred and fifty three participants will be randomized into (i) Tai-chi, (ii) exercise or (iii) waitlist control groups. Participants in both the Tai-chi and exercise groups will receive 12-weeks of specific intervention, in addition to the standard medication and care received by the waitlist control group. The exercise group will serve as a comparison, to delineate any unique benefits of Tai-chi that are independent of moderate aerobic exercise. All three groups will undergo three assessment phases: (i) at baseline, (ii) at 12 weeks (post-intervention), and (iii) at 24 weeks (maintenance). All participants will be assessed in terms of symptom management, motor coordination, memory, daily living function, and stress levels based on self-perceived responses and a physiological marker.
Discussion: Based on a promising pilot study conducted prior to this RCT, subjects in the Tai-chi intervention group are expected to be protected against deterioration of motor coordination and interpersonal functioning. They are also expected to have better symptoms management and lower stress level than the other treatment groups.
Trial registration: The trail has been registered in the Clinical Trials Center of the University of Hong Kong (HKCTR-1453).