Dr Samuel Nyman

Why Tai Chi may be a great activity for people with dementia


Dr Samuel Nyman, NIHR Career Development Fellow
Department of Psychology and Bournemouth University Dementia Institute, Bournemouth University

Date: 07 October 2016

When we think of people who might attend an Accident and Emergency department (A&E) with an injury, we might think of a young person who fell over on a night out. That’s because it gets a fair amount of media attention. However, there is less awareness of older people attending A&E because of a fall.

Being injured from falling over is the main reason for older people attending A&E. In fact, one in three people aged 65 and over fall every year. People with dementia fall twice as much and are injured twice as much as those without dementia. As well as injury, people with dementia often become more confused and agitated while in hospital and their health becomes worse. All of this can be stressful for carers and the cost to the NHS is considerable. New interventions are needed for people with dementia to help prevent them from falling. This will not only help improve their quality of life, but also their carer’s. It will also ease pressure on A&E departments.

This is where Tai Chi comes in. Evidence suggests that exercise-based interventions such as Tai Chi are effective in preventing falls. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese form of exercise where people carry out slow, flowing movements, with controlled breathing. It is a very relaxing form of exercise that brings a sense of calm as well as working the leg muscles that help with balance and coordination. So as well as improving balance to prevent falls, it may well also be a great source of fun and a way to reduce stress in people with dementia and their carers! Tai Chi instructors have been teaching classes with people of all ages and ability for years. However, little research has been done with people with dementia. The few studies that have looked at the benefits of Tai Chi have been small studies and from other countries with different healthcare systems.

I’m conducting a study with a team of colleagues to see if Tai Chi can improve postural balance to help prevent falls among people with dementia. It will be the first study in the UK to see if Tai Chi can prevent falls, and the first trial in the world using Tai Chi to prevent falls among people with dementia.

In the study, people with dementia and their informal carers will take part in pairs. Half of the 150 pairs will receive usual NHS care and the other half will receive Tai Chi delivered by a qualified instructor for 20 weeks. The project team will follow them up for six months and compare scores on tests and questionnaires to see if people have improved over the six months.

By the end of 2018 the team will have results, and hope to show that Tai Chi was of benefit to people with dementia and their informal carers, and in particular, that Tai Chi can improve balance to prevent falls among people with dementia.

For further information, please see the international registration of the trial and/or contact me:


  • Dr Samuel Nyman is funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Career Development Fellowship Award.
  • Study Sponsor: Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.
  • NHS sites: Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust
  • Additional organisations helping with recruitment: Alzheimer’s Society
  • Tai Chi instructors: Elemental Tai Chi
  • Input into the project: Public and Patient Involvement Advisory Group
  • TACIT trial team: Nyman, SR1,2, Hayward, C3, Thomas, P4, Thomas, S4, Vassallo, M5, Raftery, J6, Allen, H4, & Barrado-Martín, Y1,2
1 Department of Psychology, Bournemouth University
2 Bournemouth University Dementia Institute, Bournemouth University
3 Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit, Plymouth University
4 Bournemouth University Clinical Research Unit, Bournemouth University
5 Medicine for the Elderly, Royal Bournemouth & Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
6 Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.
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    In our latest blog, Dr Samuel Nyman explains how Tai Chi can help prevent falls in older people.
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    Dr Samuel Nyman, NIHR Career Development Fellow
    Department of Psychology and Bournemouth University Dementia Institute, Bournemouth University

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