Exercise may make cognitive decline in dementia patients worse

Modesto Morganelli
Mag 17, 2018

According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, moderate to high-intensity exercise does not slow cognitive (mental) impairment in older people with dementia.

"The search for effective lifestyle interventions that can delay cognitive decline in dementia must continue".

Almost 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia and the view that exercise might slow cognitive decline has gained widespread popularity.

They took 494 people in England who had been diagnosed with dementia, and assigned 329 of them to an exercise programme.

Researchers at New York's Union College found older adults with mild cognitive impairment - often a precursor to Alzheimer's disease - showed significant improvement after playing video games that require physical exercise.

The programme consisted of 60-90 minute group sessions in a gym twice a week for four months, plus home exercises for one additional hour each week with ongoing support.

Although the exercise programme improved physical fitness, it can not be recommended as a treatment option for cognitive impairment in dementia, say the researchers. The exercise group were fitter, but had marginally higher Alzheimer's disease assessment scores compared with the rest. Other (secondary) outcomes included activities of daily living, number of falls, and quality of life.

After allowing for potentially complicating factors, the Oxford researchers concluded cognitive impairment declined in both study groups over the 12-month period. They did, however, show improved physical fitness.

In the exercise group, the decline was steeper, "however, the average difference was small and clinical relevance was uncertain", said a press statement.

Previous research had suggested that exercise could prevent mental decline, and stave off diseases like Alzheimer's, so experts and charities said they were surprised by the findings.

In a second study on aging published by the academic journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, however, U.S. researcher found improvements in certain complex thinking and memory skills among elderly video-game players.

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