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Tai Chi May Ease Depression, Insomnia for Stroke Survivors: Study

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By Ernie Mundell and Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporters

MONDAY, June 21, 2021 (HealthDay News)

The ancient practice of tai chi may help reduce depression, anxiety and stress in people recovering from a stroke, a small new study suggests. It might also improve their sleep.

At the beginning of the study of 11 stroke survivors, most had “mild to moderate symptoms of depression,” noted lead author Dr. Ruth Taylor-Piliae, of the University of Arizona, in Tucson.

But after a two-month regimen of tai chi classes, “I was surprised and pleased with the improvements we observed in these self-reported symptoms and in sleep,” Taylor-Pillae said in a news release from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). She presented the findings Friday at a virtual meeting of the ESC.

One expert who wasn’t involved in the research said the findings are intriguing.

“We know that depression and anxiety are relatively common among stroke patients, and we know that they can create significant impairments in physical health,” noted Naomi Torres-Mackie, a psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “The results of this study have promising implications for the wellbeing of stroke survivors who are also dealing with depression and/or anxiety.”

The new study included 11 stroke survivors, average age 70, all of who had depression symptoms.

They attended tai chi classes three times a week for eight weeks. Each class consisted of a 10-minute warm-up, 40-minutes of tai chi, and a 10-minute cool-down period.

The participants learned an average of two new movements a week, eventually reaching 24 movements.

Symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress were assessed before and after the eight weeks of tai chi. The researchers also examined the participants’ sleep.

After the eight weeks, the stroke survivors experienced significant reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, along with better sleep efficiency (percentage of time spent sleeping), less wakefulness after sleep onset, and less time awake.

“Mind-body interventions are commonly used among adults to lessen depressive symptoms,” Taylor-Piliae noted. “Tai chi practice allows the individual to quiet the mind by dwelling in the present and setting aside unnecessary negative emotions, such as depression.”

Dr. Andrew Rogove directs stroke services at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. Reading over the findings, he said that “although the sample size is low, this study provides encouragement to perform larger studies” looking at tai chi for post-stroke wellness.

He did note one important caveat, however: “Ninety-one percent of the enrolled patients [in the study] could walk 15 feet without assistance — it may be difficult for a stroke patient with impaired ambulation to complete this program.”

For her part, Torres-Mackie said there are important practical advantages to tai chi.

The exercises “can be done at home and without cost, which is important because accessibility can be a barrier to mental health treatment,” she noted. “If effective as this study indicates it might be, tai chi could serve an important purpose for individuals who are looking for a complement to traditional mental health treatment, are hesitant to engage in traditional mental health treatment, or have difficulties traveling to treatment due to the physical impairments that can follow a stroke.”

The study was presented at a medical meeting, so the results should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. Taylor-Piliae said the small number of patients in the study is also a problem, but “we hope to do a randomized trial with a 12-week tai chi intervention in a larger group of patients.”


Tai Chi May Ease Depression, Insomnia for Stroke Survivors: Study 2

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Stroke Causes, Symptoms, and Recovery
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More information

The American Stroke Association has more on depression and stroke.

SOURCES: Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, psychologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Andrew Rogove, MD, PhD, medical director, stroke services, South Shore University Hospital, Bay Shore, N.Y.; European Society of Cardiology, news release, June 18, 2021

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