Published on February 12, 2012 at 5:34 PM
The findings will receive a lot of attention in the Parkinson’s community, said Blair Ford, medical adviser with the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and a professor of clinical neurology at Columbia University in New York. “Tai chi and probably equivalent methods are helpful at improving balance and decreasing falls and that’s very, very important for Parkinson’s disease,” Ford said in a Feb. 7 telephone interview. The study “might just get tai chi on the map as a conjunctive treatment for Parkinson’s. Medications alone don’t prevent falling.”
Andrew Feigin, a neurologist specializing in Parkinson’s disease at the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group in Great Neck, New York, said the findings give scientific backing to doctor recommendations that patients try exercises like tai chi to improve balance. “Balance and gait are problems that people with Parkinson’s disease have,” said Feigin, who wasn’t an author of today’s paper. “Things like stretching and resistance aren’t really working on balance. Tai chi really focuses on improvements in balance. It’s nice to get some actual data that shows doing those things can be helpful.”
“The results from this study are quite impressive,” says Ray Dorsey, a neurologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. “It's always difficult to compare results across studies, but the magnitude of the impact that they had is larger, in some cases, than what is seen with medications in Parkinson's,” says Dorsey, who also directs the Movement Disorders Center and Neurology Telemedicine at Johns Hopkins. He was not involved in the research.
Estimates vary, but at least 500,000 people in the United States have Parkinson's and as many as 10 million people worldwide are living with the disorder, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, based in New York. Men are more probable than women to have the disease. The study was paid for by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.