Chattanooga: Wheelchair tai chi classes to be offered at nursing homes

Chattanooga: Wheelchair tai chi classes to be offered at nursing homes

May 30th, 2009 by Joan Garrett McClane in News

A UTC professor who has perfected the art of seated tai chi is spreading the ancient practice to area nursing homes and senior centers.

"There are few programs designed for (this) population," said Dr. Zibin Guo, the creator of wheelchair tai chi and head of the sociology, anthropology and geography departments at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "From both an economic and health perspective, the inactivity creates a lot of problems."

Nearly 60 senior center directors and nursing home employees attended a workshop this month, during which Dr. Guo taught the basic moves of wheelchair tai chi.

The session, hosted by the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging, was so popular that Dr. Guo said he plans to host more workshops in coming months.

Steve Witt, director of the Area Agency on Aging, said individuals who work with seniors are excited to introduce seated tai chi to residents in the 10-county region.

"We feel like it is innovative because an older person may not be able to do regular tai chi standing," he said. "This will make it possible for them to do it. ... I think seniors will go for it."

Dr. Guo said seated tai chi is ideal for seniors because it offers them physical activity and calming meditation at the same time.

Many seniors have hip or knee problems that limit their movement, he said, and the inactivity, over time, can breed secondary conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Tai chi moves increase range of motion and sense of control while also promoting circulation and mental alertness, he said.

"It is meditative, and it frees people from stress," Dr. Guo said.

Senior centers in the area have not begun holding the tai chi classes, but Mr. Witt said center directors are practicing the tai chi moves at home and getting ready to launch the new activity.

Once the classes start, the Area Agency on Aging plans to track seniors' physical and mental response to their participation, he said.