Tai chi is a meditative exercise therapy based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed this so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). It involves meditative movements rooted in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and the martial arts. Tai chi was originally aimed at enhancing mental and physical health; today it has become a popular alternative therapy.
This systematic review assessed the efficiency of tai chi (TC) in different populations’ cognitive function improvement. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published from the beginning of coverage through October 17, 2020 in English and Chinese were retrieved from many indexing databases. Selected studies were graded according to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Intervention 5.1.0. The outcome measures of cognitive function due to traditional TC intervention were obtained. Meta-analysis was conducted by using RevMan 5.4 software. We follow the PRISMA 2020 guidelines.
Thirty-three RCTs, with a total of 1808 participants, were included. The results showed that TC can progress global cognition when assessed in middle-aged as well as elderly patients suffering from cognitive and executive function impairment. The findings are as follows:
- Montreal Cognitive Assessment Scale: mean difference (MD) = 3.23, 95% CI = 1.88-4.58, p < 0.00001,
- Mini-Mental State Exam: MD = 3.69, 95% CI = 0.31-7.08, p = 0.03,
- Trail Making Test-Part B: MD = -13.69, 95% CI = -21.64 to -5.74, p = 0.0007.
The memory function of older adults assessed by the Wechsler Memory Scale was as follows: MD = 23.32, 95% CI = 17.93-28.71, p < 0.00001. The executive function of college students evaluated by E-prime software through the Flanker test was as follows: MD = -16.32, 95% CI = -22.71 to -9.94, p < 0.00001.
The authors concluded that TC might have a positive effect on the improvement of cognitive function in middle-aged and elderly people with cognitive impairment as well as older adults and college students.
These days, I easily get irritated with such conclusions. That TC might improve cognitive function is obvious. If not, there would be no reason to do a review! But does it?
This paper does not provide an answer. All it shows is that TC trials are of lousy quality and that the observed effects might well be due not to TC itself by to non-specific effects.