Tai Chi for seniors: Achieving better balance

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Cindy Harrigan
Cindy Harrigan

Tai Chi, known as "meditation in motion," isn't just for 20-something-year-olds looking to improve strength, balance and personal Zen. With one-third of Americans aged 65 or more falling each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tai Chi is becoming an effective tool for falls prevention among seniors.

Recently, through Connecticut's Collaboration for Fall Prevention organization, Covenant Village of Cromwell, a Covenant Retirement community, implemented Oregon Research Institute scientist Fuzhong Li's Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance program. The program, which has been found to help reduce the risk of falling among senior adults living in a community dwelling by as much as 55 percent, is only offered in eight states. 

After becoming aware of the Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance program through a partnership with a local community college, Cromwell's resident services department contacted the Collaboration for Fall Prevention organization and held an informational session with the residents and certified program instructor Tom Cushing. In addition to learning about Tai Chi and its health benefits, our residents were informed about the impressive research that supported program, and many were eager to try it out. 

Over the course of 12 weeks, the class met twice a week for 60 minutes. During the class, male and female residents alike learned fall prevention forms using seven movements from the Yang style of Tai Chi, which is popular among beginners and focuses on increasing stability and balance. Through this training and hyper focus, participants stimulated different parts of their brain as they moved their joints and muscles gently through the movements, creating the muscle memory needed to prevent future falls.

After a few classes, residents began offering spontaneous testimony about feeling better, sleeping more soundly, improved postures and having more energy while also feeling more relaxed. They even shared their excitement and enthusiasm with their family members, other residents and doctors. 

Resident Dick Wiseman, in whom the beginning stages of Parkinson's disease have been diagnosed, said he makes sure not to miss any classes. “I'm finding the Tai Chi program to be very helpful. My doctors tell me to keep doing it and it makes me feel better,” he added.

Aside from the physical and mental benefits of Tai Chi, the residents enjoyed the social perks as well. 

The first session of the Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance ended in March, and after receiving such an overwhelming positive response from our residents, we began a second session in early May and planned a third session for September.

This class, along with our various fitness classes and resident-driven, health-focused clubs like the hiking club, is part of the Covenant Retirement Communities' commitment to residents' whole-person wellness through its LifeConnect partnership. This partnership enables staff to link individuals to resources and life-enrichment opportunities, which can include educational and cultural programming, creative arts, spiritual enrichment, service projects, volunteer outreach or health programming that includes a Tai Chi class.

Cindy Harrigan is community life director at Covenant Village of Cromwell in Connecticut.

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