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Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Inhibitory Control in Elderly Women: An fNIRS Study

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Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Inhibitory Control in Elderly Women: An fNIRS Study

Yuan Yang et al. Front Hum Neurosci.

Abstract

Background: Inhibitory control is a sub-ability of executive function and plays an important role in the entire cognitive process. However, declines in inhibitory control during aging significantly impair the quality of life of elderly people. Investigating methods to delay the decline of inhibitory control has become a focal point in current research. Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) is one effective method used to delay cognitive declines in older adults. However, the specific effects of TCC on inhibitory control and the mechanisms through which TCC may improve cognition in older adults have not been comprehensively investigated.

Objective: The study explores possible neurological mechanisms related to the effects of TCC interventions on inhibitory control in older people using a functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) technique and reaction times (RTs).

Methods: A total of 26 healthy, elderly people who had not received TCC training completed all study procedures. The subjects were randomized to either the TCC group or the control group. Subjects in the TCC group were taught TCC by a certified instructor and trained for 8 weeks. The control group continued to perform general daily activities. The Flanker task was administered to every participant to evaluate inhibitory control pre- and post-intervention. While participants were performing the Flanker task, fNIRS data were collected.

Results: Post-intervention, significant differences for incongruent flankers were found only for the TCC intervention group. Faster RTs were observed for the incongruent flankers in the TCC group than in the control group (p < 0.05). Analysis of the fNIRS data revealed an increase in oxy-Hb in the prefrontal cortex during the incongruent flankers after the TCC exercise intervention.

Conclusion: The TCC intervention significantly improved inhibitory control in older adults, suggesting that TCC is an effective, suitable exercise for improving executive function and neurological health in elderly people.

Clinical trial registration: Chinese Clinical Trial Register, ChiCTR1900028457.

Keywords: Flanker; Tai Chi Chuan; elderly women; fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy); inhibitory control.

Figures

FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1
The TCC intervention lasted for 45 min per session. Each 45-min session included a 5-min warm-up, a 35-min TCC session, and a 5-min relaxation activity.
FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2
The full Flanker task consists of four blocks of 30 trials each, which include two congruent flanker tasks and two incongruent flanker tasks. The stimuli are randomly presented in the center of the computer screen. The stimuli include congruent flanker conditions (e.g., > > > > > and < < < < <) and incongruent flanker conditions (e.g., > > < > > and < < > < <) conditions. Each block has a 30 s rest period.
FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3
Four regions of interest (ROIs): the frontal superior left area (Frontal_Sup_L, which contains channels 9, 13, and 18), the frontal inferior left area (Frontal_Inf_L, which contains channels 3, 7, and 12), the frontal superior right area (Frontal_Sup_R, which contains channels 5, 10, and 14), and the frontal inferior area right (Frontal_Inf_R, which contains channels 2, 7, and 11) were classified according to the existing anatomical calibration system, and related research results. L: left. R: right.
FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4
In the incongruent flanker task for the TCC group, the RTs at post-test was faster than those at pre-test. The difference was statistically significant. The incongruent flanker task RTs for the TCC group post-intervention were significantly faster than for the control group. There was no statistically significant change in the control group. p < 0.05, significant difference; Bars indicate standard errors.
FIGURE 5
FIGURE 5
The RTs of the TCC and control groups in the incongruent task were lower than those before the intervention, whereas the reduction in the TCC group was significantly different. p < 0.05, significant difference; Bars indicate standard errors.
FIGURE 6
FIGURE 6
The oxy-Hb concentration change in ROIs during the incongruent flanker task. (A) The Frontal_Sup_L oxy-Hb signals for the TCC group performing the incongruent flanker task post-intervention were significantly higher than at pre-test. There was no statistically significant change for the control group. Post-intervention, the oxy-Hb signals for the TCC group were higher than for the control group. (B) The Frontal_Inf_L oxy-Hb signals for the TCC group were higher than that at pre-test when performing the incongruent flanker task post-intervention. There was no significant change for the control group. Post-intervention, the oxy-Hb signals for the TCC group were higher than for the control group and the difference was marginally significant. (C) The changes in the Frontal_Sup_R were not statistically significant. (D) The changes in the Frontal_Inf_R were not statistically significant. Bars indicate standard errors.

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