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Opportunity to learn Tai Chi for the over 65s


Zoe Satherley
4 February 2010
Older people living in Lismore, Ballina, Nimbin, Casino, Coraki and surrounding areas are being invited to come to Southern Cross University to learn Tai Chi while participating in a study to see if exercise can help prevent falls.

University researchers Thomas Chen and Zac Crowley, from the School of Health and Human Sciences, are part way through two related PhD studies into how Tai Chi exercise may affect neuro-muscular function and balance control in older adults.

Their studies are part of ongoing research into ageing that has been conducted at the University for a number of years, including looking at the fear of falling, factors that may relate to the incidence of falling, and interventions that might help reduce this risk.

This research is crucial to undertake, according to the PhD students’ supervisor Professor Shi Zhou. “With Australia home to a growing retirement and baby-boomer community, it is vital for us to undertake research that will inform evidence-based practice,” he said.

“The prevention of falls in older people is an area of National Health Priority and falling is one of the most serious and costly accidents that affects older people, with quite profound health implications.”

Mr Chen and Mr Crowley hope their research contributes to a better understanding of how to stay healthy and independent at older ages.

“Many people who are older have difficulty controlling their balance and therefore are at a greater risk of injuries sustained by falling,” Mr Chen said.

“Statistically, one in three community-dwelling older adults experience at least one fall each year and more than 30 per cent of them require medical treatment after they suffer fall injuries. One reason for this is the deterioration in their neuro-muscular function. Many are never able to return home again and go into care after sustaining a bad fall.

“Older people may feel it is hard to negotiate a step or to deal with an accident when it happens unexpectedly. These problems may relate to them having weaker legs or some other difficulty in controlling their movement, including a lack of balance awareness.

“However, we hypothesize that these negative impacts might be improved by decent exercise programs. Based on some successful examples in Australia and overseas, we are introducing Tai Chi exercise classes to our study group to see if it helps improve their balance.”

The research project is being undertaken in conjunction with Southern Cross University’s Aged Services Learning and Research Centre (ASLaRC), a centre that specialises in research into the delivery of aged services for regional and rural communities.

The researchers are looking for 60 male and female volunteers from the Northern Rivers area who are aged 65-85 and currently healthy with normal weight to participate in their study. Half of the participants will be allocated in a control group that will not undertake any Tai Chi course but will participate in neuro-muscular and balance tests. The Tai Chi course will start at the beginning of March. All participants will be required to come to Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus for pre and post-training assessments.

Anyone who is interested can contact the researchers for more information. Email Mr Thomas Yung-Sheng Chen on [email protected] or telephone 6620 3759.

Photo: Tai Chi instructor Jim Hobbs with research participant Ann Bell, of Goonellabah, watched over by Mr Thomas Chen (left) and Mr Zac Crowley.