The morning light is pouring into the senior living community in Canton, where six residents are performing an exquisite choreography of sweeping, lyrical movements, emulating their Tai chi instructor.
“Wave hands like clouds,” urges Kerry Paulhus, leading them in the classic low-impact and slow-motion exercises of the ancient Chinese martial art. With relaxing music playing in the background, the students shift their weight from one leg to the other, turn their waists, and rotate their arms as if they indeed were clouds.
When class ended, Elaine Seidenberg and Fran Rogovin, both 84 and close friends for four years, were glowing.
“Tai chi calms me down and has lowered my blood pressure,” said Rogovin at Orchard Cove, a facility that is part of Hebrew SeniorLife. “It’s just amazing what Tai chi has done for me.”
“In class, we wave hands like clouds,” agreed Seidenberg, a former Cape Cod resident. “And after class, we walk on clouds.”
While Tai chi may offer senior practitioners inner peace, scientists also value it for its fundamental, physical benefits. In addition to improving balance, flexibility, and mental agility, it also reduces falls, the largest preventable cause of death and injury among older adults. One way to help the aging have long and vital lives, researchers say, is to help protect them from injuries or worse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three older adults falls dangerously each year. In 2014, about 27,000 older adults died from falls, more than 2.8 million were treated in emergency rooms, and 800,000 were hospitalized. Falls are the leading cause of death among adults over 65, and the death rate from them has soared in the past decade.
Over more than 30 years, researchers at the Institute for Aging Research have been studying what causes these falls among the elderly, and how to prevent them. The institute was started at Hebrew SeniorLife 50 years ago to take advantage of the proximity to senior residents living nearby, said Lew Lipsitz, institute director and chief academic officer.