T'ai Chi for Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia

Just out from the National Academies is a report entitled Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia--a way forward, which should be of interest to T’ai Chi teachers and students everywhere.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine operates under an 1863 charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln and granted by the Congress of the United States in order to meet the government's need for an independent advisor on scientific matters. The consensus report from the Committee on Preventing Dementia and Cognitive Impairment asserts that encouraging evidence supports the implementation of three concurrent interventions in order to slow cognitive decline and the onset of dementia.

The three classes of interventions recommended are: cognitive training, blood pressure management and increased physical activity. Those of us who practice T'ai Chi will immediately recognize that the traditional Chinese internal art covers all three of these bases. Those of us who follow scientific research may appreciate what a rare move this is for a findings committee.

Why? The gold-standard of scientific research is randomized controlled trials. But, as the report acknowledges, randomized controlled trials with protocols having three different parameters would be “challenging to evaluate.”

They could also take years.

And so, the absence of randomized controlled trials notwithstanding, the report suggests three interventions that the committee “believes should be discussed with members of the public who are actively seeking advice on steps they can take to maintain brain health as they age.” Additionally, because “the apparent complexity of the pathophysiology underlying cognitive decline and dementia suggests that a multi-facted approach may be most effective,” report committee chair Chair Alan I. Leshner has declared that "the evidence is strong enough to suggest the public should at least have access to these results to help inform their decisions about how they can invest their time and resources to maintain brain health with aging.”

In terms of cognitive training, ample studies have indicated that T'ai Chi practice
improves cognitive functioning, memory, and even brain size. Research also has shown T'ai Chi to be effective in lowering and managing blood pressure, with one study even suggesting it may be as effective as prescription drugs. And although the movements are slow and gentle, we know that T’ai Chi improves lung function, aerobic capacity, strength and oxygen uptake.

Only time will tell, but cognitive training, blood pressure management and increased physical activity may turn out to be the trifecta of cognitive protection. Fortunately for us, T’ai Chi bestows all three, and more.

A pre-publication of the complete report can be read online here:
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https://www.nap.edu/read/24782/chapter/1#iv>