A randomized control trial testing whether a relaxation response based intervention, Tai Chi
Chih, will affect Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) specific immunity measures of psychological
adaptation and health function in the older adult.
Both the incidence and severity of Herpes Zoster (HZ) or "Shingles" increase markedly with
increasing age, is a painful condition, due to a decline in Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV)
specific immunity. Considerable evidence further shows that psychological stresses salient
in the older adult correlate with impairments of cellular immunity.
The investigators have observed that Varicella Zoster Immunity is always decreased in
individuals with major depression. Moreover, our preliminary data indicates that the
presence of depressive symptoms in older adults is associated with a decline of VZV
responder cell frequency (VZV-RCF). Taken together, the untoward effects of age and
depressive symptoms on VZV immunity raise the question as to whether an alternative medicine
intervention might augment VZV specific immunity in the older adult. We have preliminarily
shown that administration of a relaxation-response based intervention, Tai Chi Chih (TCC),
results in improvements in health functioning and VZV immunity in older adults as compared
to controls. TCC is a slow moving meditation comprised of twenty separate standardized
movements for use in elderly populations.
This proposed controlled clinical trial aims to: 1) determine whether the practice of TCC
for 16 weeks influences Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) immunity; 2) demonstrate that TCC can
produce significant changes in psychological adaptation, health behaviors, and health
functioning and well-being; and 3) assess whether changes in psychological adaptation,
health behaviors, and health functioning correlate with changes in VZV immunity following
TCC in older adults.
We hypothesize that this behavioral intervention that prioritizes treatment of excessive
physiological arousal can influence one's affective state with effects on cellular immunity.
By standardization of training and practice schedules, TCC offers an important advantage
over prior relaxation response based therapies. Focus on older adults at increase risk for
HZ and assay of VZV specific cellular immunity has implications for understanding the impact
of behavioral factors and an alternative medicine intervention on a clinically relevant
endpoint and the ability of the immune system to respond to antigens of infectious
History of Varicella or long-term resident (greater than or equal to 30 years) in the
continental United States.