Evidence Summary

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Tai Chi can improve cognitive function in older adults with cognitive impairment and healthy older adults.

Wayne PM, Walsh JN, Taylor-Piliae RE, et al.  Effect of Tai Chi on cognitive performance in older adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis  J Am Geriatr Soc.  2014; 62: 25-39

Review question

Is Tai Chi an effective exercise to improve cognitive function and prevent cognitive decline in older adults?


Cognitive decline is common as people age. Cognitive decline may influence an older adult’s memory and thinking skills. Physical activity may improve cognitive performance. Tai Chi is a physical activity that incorporates cognitive, meditative and social components to the exercise program. Tai Chi is a gentle activity, and with proper instruction it is a safe exercise for many older adults.

How the review was done

This review included 20 studies with 2553 participants. 11 studies were randomized controlled trials whose results were combined statistically, with 1,264 participants. The review assessed whether Tai Chi slowed cognitive decline in healthy older adults, and whether it improved cognitive function in older adults already experiencing cognitive decline. The studies looked at whether Tai chi improved global cognition or thinking, and executive functions such as memory, attention and processing speed. The review assessed whether Tai chi was effective when compared to other active interventions such as other physical activity interventions, and when compared to no intervention.

What the researchers found

In healthy older adults Tai Chi improved executive function whether compared to no intervention (large effect) or other exercise such as walking (moderate effect). In older adults with cognitive impairment, Tai Chi also improved cognitive function whether compared to no intervention (moderate effect) or other active interventions such as exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy and mahjong (small effect).


Tai Chi has consistent, small effects on improving cognitive performance in both healthy older adults and older adults with some cognitive impairment.



Cognitive function
Mental processes, including thinking, learning and remembering.
Cognitive impairment
Trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect everyday life.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.

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DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

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