OBJECTIVES: To determine the effectiveness of a 16-week community-based tai chi program in reducing falls and improving balance in people aged 60 and older.
DESIGN: Randomized, controlled trial with waiting list control group.
SETTING: Community in Sydney, Australia.
PARTICIPANTS: Seven hundred two relatively healthy community-dwelling people aged 60 and older (mean age 69).
INTERVENTION: Sixteen-week program of community-based tai chi classes of 1 hour duration per week.
MEASUREMENTS: Falls during 16 and 24 weeks of follow-up were assessed using a calendar method. Balance was measured at baseline and 16-week follow-up using six balance tests.
RESULTS: Falls were less frequent in the tai chi group than in the control group. Using Cox regression and time to first fall, the hazard ratio after 16 weeks was 0.72 (95% confidence interval (CI)=0.51–1.01, P=.06), and after 24 weeks it was 0.67 (95% CI=0.49–0.93, P=.02). There was no difference in the percentage of participants who had one or more falls. There were statistically significant differences in changes in balance favoring the tai chi group on five of six balance tests.
CONCLUSION: Participation in once per week tai chi classes for 16 weeks can prevent falls in relatively healthy community-dwelling older people.