Can you treat depression with Tai Chi?

Recent research shows that doing Tai Chi after a stroke may reduce depression. We talk with the author of the study in this episode.

It's a nice complement to our previous episode where we talked about the nature of Post Stroke Depression. Depression is an insidious illness that undermines recovery, healing, relationships and the joy we could find in life.

Traditional treatments may include talk therapy and/or medication. There are also a host of new treatments being studied. And there's a bunch of snake oil or scam treatments out there, too. Plus there's a whole bunch of stuff in between.

Dr. Ruth Taylor-Piliae has been working in the stroke field and with Tai Chi for a long time. Her research is a promising starting point for exploring the potential of ancient Tai Chi practices to treat Post Stroke Depression.


From the University of Arizona College of Nursing

Dr. Ruth Taylor-Piliae poses for a headshot in front of a golden brown backdrop

Dr. Ruth Taylor-Piliae is an Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Arizona. The goal of her research is to increase physical activity among older adults with heart disease and stroke through the implementation of innovative interventions such as Tai Chi, to improve physical functioning, reduce fall rates and improve quality of life.

Dr. Taylor-Piliae received her B.S.N. from California State University Fresno, her M.N. from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and her Ph.D. from the University of California San Francisco. She completed a 2-year post-doctoral fellowship in cardiovascular epidemiology and prevention at Stanford University. Dr. Taylor-Piliae has received funding as a principal investigator from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, Hospital Authority of Hong Kong, National Institute of Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

She reviews for professional journals and has had over 70 peer-reviewed manuscripts published in top-tiered journals both within nursing and inter-professional journals. She is highly cited for her work (citations>3600, h-index=30, i10-index=54).

For more details, see https://www.nursing.arizona.edu/rpiliae

Should you do Tai Chi?

Maybe. Ask your doctor.

Before engaging in any new exercise program or treatment, ask your doctor to make sure you can do it safely.

I am not a doctor. I say it all the time. I'm just a marketing guy who knows way more about neurology and neuroplasticity than any marketing should know.

That said, let's run Tai Chi through my snake oil filter.

Is Tai Chi safe?

For the most part, yes. Of course if you have balance or movement challenges, an adaptive for may be more appropriate. Take steps to make sure you don't fall. Falling is probably the biggest risk, but it should be an easy one to mitigate,

Is it expensive?

Generally, it's probably not that costly. It's not going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. With some searching, you can find free or low cost options.

Will it interfere with traditional therapies?

It doesn't have to. If you have the time and energy, you can do Tai Chi in addition to PT, OT, Speech, or Mental Health therapy. If you decide to do Tai Chi as part of your recovery, this random guy on the internet suggests to do it in addition to, rather than instead of regular therapy.

Will it actually help your recovery?

Maybe. As Ruth and I discussed, her research shows it does reduce Post Stroke Depression. Granted, it's a small study.

There are a lot of things survivors are encouraged to do to help recovery. Move. Exercise. Practice patterns. Learn stuff. Connect with other people. Find things you enjoy doing and do them. Those are just a few, but Tai Chi does support those.

Final analysis

Especially if you enjoy doing Tai Chi and your doctor says its safe, then go for it. There appears to be a potential benefit and no significant downside. That's a win by my math.

Paralympic Games

The 2020 Paralympic Games will take place in Tokyo between August 24th and September 5. You can learn more about the games from the main site here. You can also learn more about the US team of 200+ athletes here.

Check out their stories. Try to catch some of the games on TV or online. These are athletes who are competing with disabilities and showing what can be possible. Perhaps there's a sport you would like to become more involved in. These athletes may show you a way.

Check out the athletes' stories and follow your favorites on social media. What an you learn from them that you can apply to your own life?

And maybe there's not a life-changing takeaway other than, "That was awesome!" And you know what?

That's okay, too.

Hack of the Week

You don't need specialized grippers for jars and containers. Simple rubber band can make handling things with weak hands much simpler. They're cheap and come in a variety of sizes. Here's a listing on Amazon.*


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast

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