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Can Tai Chi Reduce Healthcare Utilization and Cost in Residents of Low-Income Senior Housing?

February 26, 2021 - Scientists from Brandeis University and Harvard Medical School performed a study together to test the impact of Tai Chi on healthcare utilization and cost in older adults living in low-income senior housing. They hypothesized that Tai Chi would improve overall health enough to reduce the use of emergency department (ED) and inpatient services.

The study, conducted in Greater Boston, Massachusetts, includes 6 sites with 75 individuals in the Tai Chi treatment condition and 6 sites with 67 individuals in the health education control condition.

Members of the treatment group received up to a year-long intervention with twice weekly, in-person Tai Chi exercise sessions along with video-directed exercises that could be done independently at home. The comparison group received monthly, in-person healthy aging education classes (HE). Study recruitment took place between August, 2015 and October, 2017. Key outcomes included acute care utilization (inpatient stays, observation stays and emergency department visits). In addition, the cost of utilization was estimated using the age, sex and race adjusted allowed amount from Medicare claims for a geographically similar population aged 65 or older.

The results suggested a possible reduction in the rate of ED visits in the Tai Chi group vs. controls, but no findings achieved statistical significance. Adjusted estimates of imputed costs of ED and hospital care were similar between TC and HE, averaging approximately $3,000 in each group.

ED utilization tended to be lower over 6 to 12 months of Tai Chi exercises compared to HE in older adults living in low-income housing, although estimated costs of care were similar.

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