As senior health care providers continue to expand their wellness offerings, the time-honored practice of Tai Chi has attracted a new audience. This gentle, meditative movement program has been a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. In recent years, it has gained popularity among older adults, as it is low-impact, self-paced, senior-friendly – and a safe and easy way to improve balance and flexibility. In fact, studies have found that more than half of those who practice this exercise begin after age 50.
Forward-thinking providers of health care and senior living services are now offering Tai Chi as a standard part of their wellness offerings. For example, Pilgrim Manor Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation, an award-winning health care facility in Bossier City, LA, has partnered with Tyler, TX-based Lifetime Wellness, a leading provider of wellness programs for senior living, to teach Tai Chi in group classes and individual sessions.
Moving slowly and gracefully
April Thompson, Pilgrim Manor’s wellness specialist for eight years, leads the program for residents. “Tai Chi involves making slow, graceful movements while breathing deeply,” Thompson says. “Studies have shown that regular practice can improve health, reduce falls, relieve pain, improve mobility and balance, and boost immunity.
“Currently, we offer seated Tai Chi as a weekly group exercise, as most of our residents are wheelchair-bound. It’s a great option for those who are frail or have limited movement. They can keep fit and stay relaxed without worrying about being injured by vigorous exercise.”
Thompson meets with families when their loved ones are admitted to Pilgrim Manor. The community provides outpatient and post-hospital short-term rehabilitation programs, as well as long-term care for those who need additional support.
“Lifetime Wellness offers unique offerings like Tai Chi that truly stand out – and are often the deciding factor in families’ selection of Pilgrim Manor for a loved one’s care,” Thompson notes. “Families also appreciate our weekly updates on their loved one’s progress in our wellness program and help reinforce participation.”
Learning from the best
After completing training through the Sydney, Australia-based Tai Chi for Health Institute, with a focus on Tai Chi for Arthritis, Thompson received her board certification in Tai Chi in spring 2021. The institute was founded by family physician Dr. Paul Lam, a world leader in Tai Chi for health improvement. Just 3,500 people in the U.S. have been taught Dr. Lam’s Tai Chi for Arthritis for Fall Prevention program.
Thompson is the only instructor for Dr. Lam’s program in the Shreveport-Bossier area; her training was funded by a state grant. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has exclusively endorsed Dr. Lam’s program, naming it the only Tai Chi offering that is safe and effective for managing arthritis pain and preventing falls.
Treating many conditions
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Tai Chi is a safe complementary approach for treating a wide range of conditions, from lower back pain to fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease to multiple sclerosis (MS).
Thompson notes that program participants at Pilgrim Manor – and their families – are responding enthusiastically to the Tai Chi offering, which was launched in June.
“Our residents are excited to have something new to look forward to in their exercise routine, and many are already experiencing the benefits,” Thompson said. “One participant, for example, who is living with MS, welcomed Tai Chi as a way to relieve her worsening symptoms. She says she always feels better after she does the exercises – calmer, less anxious, and more alert. Another resident, who is recovering from a stroke, cannot yet communicate in words, but clearly hears and responds to the music during class.”
Offering a maintenance program
Along with group exercises three times a week, Pilgrim Manor also offers Tai Chi through 30-minute one-on-one sessions twice a week as part of the community’s eight-week maintenance program. Eighteen residents currently participate in this program, a specialized service Lifetime Wellness provides for patients who discharge from rehab services.
“We keep them moving,” Thompson says. “With our maintenance program, participants can retain what they learned in physical therapy, increasing range of motion, improving balance and coordination, and maintaining their ability to walk.”
Promoting wellness as a way of life
Pilgrim Manor’s partnership with Lifetime Wellness has enabled the facility to extend its reach and bring a whole-person approach to resident activities.
“Strong activity programs are central to the ability of skilled nursing and rehab facilities to improve resident health,” says Callie Whitwell, chief operating officer and founding partner at Lifetime Wellness. “But many don’t have the resources to train their staff in specialized programs like Tai Chi. Our person-centered program extends the reach of the activity team, supports resident choices, and promotes wellness as a way of life. Tai Chi is a wonderful addition to meeting these goals.”