It was our intention to analyze the effects of Tai Chi exercise for visually impaired individuals with a history of falling. The practice of Tai Chi has become increasingly popular and well researched in recent years as a health-related exercise that can assist participants with stress management, balance, flexibility, strength as well as cardiovascular health. In addition, individuals with a visual impairment have more difficulty with postural control and greater instability, which in turn affects ability to balance and possibly causes more falls. Since earlier efforts suggests that many physical deficits such as balance, strength, and flexibility could be directly responsible for falls we implemented a training strategy that could be done on an individual basis and would incorporate training in strength and balance. Two individuals with visual impairments were identified as having balance difficulty and reported frequent loss of balance and a history of falling. The intervention involved a Tai Chi class lasting 90 minutes, 2 days a week for 10 weeks. The form of Tai Chi practiced in this intervention was Tai Chi Quan. This form of Tai Chi was chosen for its emphasis on balance and controlled movement. The instructor modified her normal teaching protocol by including more description of the movements, positioning the students and bringing in spacers so the participants could feel the appropriate length their feet should be apart during a movement. Participants were asked to practice the movements and exercises they learned while at home and during free time. The NeuroCom Equitest Sensory Organization Test (SOT) was used to assess the participant's balance both before and after the Tai Chi intervention. Participant # 1 increased her overall composite score from 58 (below normal for her age) to a 78 (within normal limits for her age). In addition a shift in her strategy from using her hips to try and maintain stability towards the preferred method of using her ankles to adjust and make corrections. Participant # 2 increased her overall composite score from 81 to 84, along with strategy shift towards more of an ankle strategy. Most germane to this analysis was the result that during testing participant #1 fell three times during the pre-test and recorded no falls during the post test.
These case studies show promising results for inclusion of Tai Chi as an exercise intervention to improve balance in individuals with visual impairments. Keyword(s): adapted physical activity, therapeutic recreation