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:

NIH lecture on T'ai Chi and balance

Lori, Ellen and Setsuko all attended the recent NIH lecture by Peter Wayne, PhD of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard Medical School on "Minding" Your Balance with T'ai Chi.

All reported it to be an interesting, useful and enjoyable.

You can watch it here

T'ai Chi vs Physical Therapy for knee pain

Thanks to Jonathan Scheinbart for bringing our attention to the May 16, 2016 article in the Washington Post entitled, "Achy knees? Tai Chi may work as well as—or better than—physical therapy."

The study the article references appeared in the
Annals of Internal Medicine, and reports NIH as the primary funding source. The results and conclusions state:

"Of note, the T'ai Chi group had significently greater improvements in depression and the physical component of quality of life. The benefit of T'ai Chi was consistent across instructors. No serious adverse events occurred….T'ai Chi produced beneficial effects similar to those of a standard course of physical therapy in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. "

The study was reported widely, as you can imagine, including in Science Daily, WebMD, the Chicago Tribune, and by NIH itself. The Post article states that a year after the study, "improvements in depressive symptoms and overall quality of life were greater, on average, among those who practiced tai chi."

I think we're far from seeing the last of these studies.

Back in August, I wrote here, in
Knee Pain, Surgery and Side Effects, about studies that showed that surgery for osteoarthritic knees promised to relieve pain for up to 6 months, yet the risk of having adverse side effects, however unlikely, remained for years.

T'ai Chi practice, whose pain reduction benefits seem to be more enduring than surgery offers, (according to the study above, 52 weeks at least), has "side effects" which all seem to be only beneficial (improved quality of life, lower blood pressure, better outlook, improved lung capacity, reduced risk of falling, and on and on…).

Seems to be highly cost effective as well.

For me, it's also great fun!

Knee pain, surgery, and side effects 

Statistically, more than 1/3 of you reading this are suffering from knee pain (unless you’re already a student, of course!).

Surgery to relieve knee pain may not help beyond 6 months and carries risks of adverse side effects. T'ai Chi has been shown to be effective in relieving knee pain, and it's side effects are beneficial: increased efficacy, function and quality of life, reduced low back pain, hypertension, depression, and risk of falling, improved sleep ... The list goes on.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, "knee pain is the number two cause of chronic pain; more than one-third of Americans report being affected by knee pain."

A recent New York Times article (6/22/15) reported on research from Denmark showing that surgery for knee pain may not provide benefits: beyond the six-month mark, pain-reduction benefits from surgery were gone. And, although they're not common, knee surgery brings risks of adverse side effects like deep vein thrombosis, infection, pulmonary embolism and even death.

Another study, just now coming out of Boston University, revealed that osteoarthritis patients who have total knee or total hip replacement surgery are at increased risk of heart attack in the immediate postoperative period, and that even though long-term risk of heart attack was insignificant, the risk of blood clots in the lung remained for years after surgery.

On the other hand, a study out of Tufts medical center in 2008 showed that T'ai Chi twice a week for 12 weeks was effective in relieving pain for the 65 yr old (average) test group, all of whom had severe osteoarthritis for 10 years or more. Their "side effects" included reduced depression, improved self-efficacy, and improved overall health & function, and after 48 weeks of continued T'ai Chi practice, all these improvements maintained.

If you’re managing knee pain and are interested in seeing if T’ai Chi may be of help in your particular situation, please know that I offer private T'ai Chi lessons (including via Skype) as well as morning, mid-day and evening group classes weekdays at
The Center in Tenleytown. I urge you to consider exploring the many benefits of T'ai Chi, perhaps by registering for classes. But, if my schedule doesn't fit your needs, please write: we are blessed to have many excellent teachers in the DC area, and I'd be more than happy to recommend one.