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Tai Chi Enhances Task-Switching Performance in Older Adults

October 25, 2018 - Studies have shown that Tai Chi training has benefits on task-switching ability. However, the neural correlates underlying the effects of Tai Chi training on task-switching ability remain unclear. Using task-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a numerical Stroop paradigm, National Taiwan University investigated changes of prefrontal brain activation and behavioral performance during task-switching before and after Tai Chi training and examined the relationships between changes in brain activation and task-switching behavioral performance.

Cognitively normal older adults were randomly assigned to either the Tai Chi or control (CON) group. Over a 12-week period, the Tai Chi group received three 60-min sessions of Yang-style Tai Chi training weekly, whereas the CON group only received one telephone consultation biweekly and did not alter their life style. All participants underwent assessments of physical functions and neuropsychological functions of task-switching, and fMRI scans, before and after the intervention. Twenty-six participants, 16 of them in the Tai Chi group and the 10 others in the CON group, completed the entire experimental procedure.

Significant group-by-time interaction effects on behavioral and brain activation measures were found. Specifically, the Tai Chi group showed improved physical function, decreased errors on task-switching performance, and increased left superior frontal activation for Switch > Non-switch contrast from pre- to post-intervention, that were not seen in the CON group. Intriguingly, Tai Chi participants with greater prefrontal activation increases in the switch condition from pre- to post-intervention presented greater reductions in task-switching errors.

These findings, reported by the journal Frontiers in aging neuroscience, suggest that Tai Chi training could potentially provide benefits to some, although not all, older adults to enhance the function of their prefrontal activations during task-switching.

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