The success of a tai chi program in senior community centers in an Oregon town has spurred the state’s Department of Human Services to widely adopt the program to help reduce falls among community living older adults.
In the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Oregon Research Institute senior scientist Fuzhong Li, PhD, describes how senior community centers in Lane County, Ore successfully adopted an evidence-based tai chi program to prevent falls among older adults. Based on the success, the Oregon Department of Human Services, in partnership with four counties in Oregon, has adopted the program as part of its efforts to disseminate evidence-based interventions to promote physical activity and reduce falls among community living older adults.
"Our results are very important from a public-health perspective," Li says. "The US population is aging rapidly and falls are a leading cause of mortality and morbidity among adults age 65 and older. Falls are associated with an enormous burden to individuals, society, and to the health care system. Tai chi, as a proven fall intervention, may have much to offer in terms of reducing the public-health burden of falls and the benefits accrued for prevention."
The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine how well the exercise program translated into positive results when taught in community centers by lay people. There is wide recognition within public health that proven programs must be translated, implemented, and adopted to have widespread effects. In previously-funded research, the tai chi program developed by Li and his team showed positive results in improving balance and reducing falls among the elderly.
Twice-weekly, 1-hour classes taught by trained tai chi instructors were held in local senior centers for 12 weeks. Li and his team assessed several factors, such as how many centers adopted the program, whether teachers and staff were successful in implementing key elements of the program, and whether participants experienced healthy benefits. Of critical importance is whether the community center was willing to consider tai chi as part of its regular programs, and the extent to which participants continued their practice once the 12 weeks were over.
Results indicated that the all centers invited agreed to participate and all participating centers successfully implemented the program. Program participants showed significant improvements in health-related outcome measures such as balance, reduction in falls, and increased-functional independence.
Tai chi has been considered a low-cost exercise activity because no equipment and few facilities are needed. The results indicate that an evidence-based tai chi program can be implemented in urban and rural community settings.