A walk on water: comparing the influence of Ai Chi and Tai Chi on fall risk and verbal working memory in ageing people with intellectual disabilities - a randomised controlled trial

J Intellect Disabil Res. 2019 Jun;63(6):603-613. doi: 10.1111/jir.12602. Epub 2019 Feb 18.


Background: Aquatic motor intervention has been found to be effective in reducing falls and improving verbal working memory among the general population. However, effects among older adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) have never been explored. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of aquatic motor intervention on fall risk and verbal working memory among older adults with ID.

Methods: Forty-one older adults with mild to moderate ID (age: 50-66 years) were randomly assigned to 14 weeks of aquatic motor intervention (Ai Chi: N = 19) or identical on-land motor intervention (Tai Chi: N = 22). Fall risk, measured with the Tinetti balance assessment tool (TBAT), and verbal working memory, measured with the digit span forward test, were assessed pre-intervention, after 7 weeks of intervention and post-intervention.

Results: Study results indicate positive effects of both aquatic and on-land motor intervention on TBAT fall risk score, while the aquatic motor intervention group improved TBAT fall risk score quicker as compared with the on-land motor intervention group. Moreover, the lower the pre-intervention TBAT score was, the higher the improvement. In addition, study findings support the positive effects of aquatic motor intervention on verbal working memory ability as measured with the digit span forward test.

Conclusions: Motor intervention, and particularly in an aquatic environment, can potentially reduce fall risk. Aquatic motor intervention may help to improve verbal working memory among older adults with ID.

Keywords: aquatic motor intervention; cognitive abilities; falling; older adults with ID.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Aged
  • Aging* / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / physiopathology
  • Intellectual Disability / rehabilitation*
  • Language
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term* / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Tai Ji*
  • Water Sports* / physiology