Objectives: To determine whether an intense tai chi exercise program could reduce fear of falling better than a wellness education (WE) program in older adults who had fallen previously and meet criteria for transitioning to frailty.
Design: Cluster-randomized, controlled trial of 48 weeks' duration.
Setting: Ten matched pairs of congregate living facilities in the greater Atlanta area.
Participants: Sample of 291 women and 20 men, aged 70 to 97.
Measurements: Activity-related fear of falling using the Activities-Specific Balance Confidence Scale (ABC) and the Fall Efficacy Scale at baseline and every 4 months for 1 year. Demographics, time to first fall and all subsequent falls, functional measures, Centers for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, medication use, level of physical activity, comorbidities, and adherence to interventions.
Results: Mean ABC was similar in both cohort groups at the time of randomization but became significantly higher (decreased fear) in the tai chi cohort at 8 months (57.9 vs 49.0, P<.001) and at study end (59.2 vs 47.9, P<.001). After adjusting for covariates, the mean ABC after 12 months of intervention was significantly greater in the tai chi group than in the WE group, with the differences increasing with time (mean difference at 12 months=9.5 points, 95% confidence interval=4.8–14.2, P<.001).
Conclusion: Tai chi led to a significantly greater reduction in fear of falling than a WE program in transitionally frail older adults. The mean percentage change in ABC scores widened between tai chi and WE participants over the trial period. Tai chi should be considered in any program designed to reduce falling and fear of falling in transitionally frail older adults.