Tai chi helps elderly blind find balance

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am


Practising tai chi can help elderly people who are visually impaired to improve their balance and maintain their muscle strength.

That is according to researchers at Polytechnic University's Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, who conducted a 16-week study last year and found that the well-known benefits of tai chi also extend to old people who are blind or visually impaired.

The researchers, who teamed up with the Hong Kong Society for the Blind, split 40 visually impaired participants aged 70 and older, with no tai chi experience, into two groups to test their agility and balance.

Twenty were asked to practise a simplified version of tai chi for 90 minutes, three times a week, while the control group - a benchmark against the other group's progress - learned to play the djembe, a type of drum.

After 16 weeks, those in the tai chi group had learned to use their remaining vision to control their balance more effectively, said William Tsang, from the research team. The repeated movements also helped them stimulate their vestibular system, a key element of balance and sense of space.

The techniques adopted in the study were used to create a new set of movements called 'tactile tai chi for the visually impaired'.

Three people from the society's Kowloon Home for the Aged Blind in Sham Shui Po who took part in the study explained yesterday how they learned tai chi.

Diana Tsang, a stylish 93-year-old, said she volunteered because she wanted to improve her balance as she had 30 per cent of her sight left. She said a tai chi master guided them through the fluid routines by touching their arms and elbows. They were also given recorded instructions.

'I learned through the audio recording,' said Tsang, who was herself a vision in a bright yellow wool scarf.

After the tai chi programme ended, Tsang said she felt steadier and continued to practise with her peers so she would not forget the controlled movements. 'It is lifelong learning,' she said.