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Keywords:

  • fall avoidance efficacy;
  • falls;
  • nursing;
  • older adults;
  • physical fitness;
  • Tai Chi exercise

Aim.  This paper reports a study to determine changes in the physical fitness (knee and ankle muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and mobility), fall avoidance efficacy, and fall episodes of institutionalized older adults after participating in a 12-week Sun-style Tai Chi exercise programme.

Background.  Fall prevention has a high priority in health promotion for older people because a fall is associated with serious morbidity in this population. Regular exercise is effective in fall prevention for older adults because of improvements in strength and balance. Tai Chi exercise is considered to offer great potential for health promotion and rehabilitation, particularly in the maintenance of good mental and physical condition in older people.

Methods.  A quasi-experimental design with a non-equivalent control group was used. Data were collected from September 2001 to January 2002. A total of 68 fall-prone older adults with a mean age of 77·8 years participated in the study, and 29 people in the Tai Chi group and 30 controls completed the post-test measures. The Tai Chi exercise programme was provided three times a week for 12 weeks in the experimental group. Data were analysed for group differences using t-tests.

Results.  At post-test, the experimental group showed significantly improved muscle strength in knee and ankle flexors (P < 0·001) and extensors (P < 0·01), and improved flexibility (P < 0·01) and mobility (P < 0·001) compared with the control group. There was no significant group difference in fall episodes, but the relative risk ratio for the Tai Chi exercise group compared with the control group was 0·62. The experimental group reported significantly more confidence in fall avoidance than did the control group.

Conclusion.  The findings reveal that Tai Chi exercise programmes can safely improve physical strength and reduce fall risk for fall-prone older adults in residential care facilities.