T’ai Chi or Otago for Falls Prevention?
A personal statement
Let me stress I am not a medical person but have used and taught T’ai Chi for Health for many years. I am now in the over-60 age group myself and have arthritic and spinal deterioration which has been controlled for many years by regular T'ai Chi.
The Otago Program is a reputable and proven health and falls prevention program which is used world-wide and I do not wish universally to discredit it. I have completed training on the Otago Falls Prevention Program and am qualified to teach/mentor it.
The views expressed below are therefore my own based on a) my passion for T’ai Chi and it's proven benefits, b) my own medical conditions, c) my experience with exercise among elderly and physically/mentally less able, d) discussions with like-minded souls.
Many may disagree with me - that is their prerogative.
Across the country GP referrals and local community classes are being set up to provide help in falls prevention for the "semi-active" 50+ age group using Otago. My own passion is for T’ai Chi where we have unsolicited testimonials about movement and balance improvement.
Personally the more I look at Otago and compare its goals with its rigid practicality, I have become more and more disillusioned by its content, specifically when it is used outside of a hospital/physio environment in rural community groups.
Even when ignoring the internal aspects of T’ai Chi, as a non-medically qualified person some of the key points of my arguments for using T’ai Chi over Otago are:
1. Otago uses singular physio type movements, based on repetitions and weights. It treats each group of muscles individually. TC to me provides a holistic approach using the whole body, such that weakened parts are supported and supplemented by the parts of the body that still work. This is particularly noticeable for my own condition, where I can move smoothly with no pain using TC, yet basic Otago moves have caused great stress on my back. Otago type movements may be theoretically good when used to strengthen weakness in younger, more athletic bodies, but for a 60+ year old who has had arthritis for years, the benefits to balance and mobility given by TC are a much more achievable aim for most, especially those who would probably give up with routine exercise programs such as Otago.
To me TC will get a person who already has a damaged body twisted with arthritis, joint replacements, etc. to use 95% of their existing ability to balance and move more comfortably .This is preferable to trying to recreate the movement and strength of an undamaged body, younger in years.
2. Otago is back and lower body exercise. It has no movement for hands, arms & shoulders, yet to me these are essential for support and assisting whole body balance.
3. Otago use the classic TC terms and posture for the non-exercising parts of the body (i.e. those not in tension). Its seems to have adopted the cosmetic shell of TC and applied it to routine physio. For example each of Dr Paul Lam’s warm-ups encompasses an average of three singular Otago warm ups.
4. All the papers, studies, etc. on Otago appear use similar information that is equally applicable to TC.
5. During my Otago training, when I described the range of people doing TC that I have, and asked about how some of them would fit into an Otago FP scheme I was told that they would be considered unsuitable for that program. I'm never selective about those who join in TC or Qi Gong.
Age, severely limited movement and other impairment is no obstacle to some form of achievement.
6. Finally, TC IS FUN, not boring exercise routines, and provides a sociable form of gentle exercise and balance improvement. (I'm told that I shouldn’t play music during an Otago sessions - it might encourage the person to move to the music and not to the repetition count!).