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Exercise could boost memory skills for people with dementia

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Dementia outcomes could be helped with exercise.

Dealing with dementia is difficult for both caregivers and those affected. A new review from Cochrane researchers shows exercise could help memory for patients suffering from cognitive dysfunction.


Past studies have been inconclusive about whether or not exercise has benefits for dementia.

The disease that leads to personality changes, memory loss, inability to perform activities of daily living, depression and is associated with high mortality rates is a significant burden for families, caregivers and the healthcare system.

Because dementia rates are on the rise, research has focused on interventions that can delay onset and progression of the brain disorder that can be mild to severe.

Results of a 2008 Cochrane review of four trials failed to find exercise benefits for dementia. The new review included eight trials that have become available.

Dorothy Forbes, an Associate Professor of Nursing who works at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta said in a press release there is now “promising evidence” that exercise programs can improve memory and the ability to perform activities of daily living for people living with dementia.

Forbes adds the findings need to be interpreted cautiously however, due to some inconsistencies in the study reviews.

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Specifically, the analysis failed to show whether exercise can help depression that is common with dementia, reduce the burden of the disease on the health care system or help control behavioral challenges that are also common with dementia.

Included in the review were 329 people from eight clinical trials. The analysis showed exercise could help people with dementia improve walking distance and other activities including getting up from a chair.

The studies

The reviewers included studies that compared exercise to a control group of older people with dementia. Controls were assigned either social groups and activities or 'usual care'.

The authors concluded more studies are needed to pinpoint how much exercise is beneficial for dementia and whether exercise programs can help patients live at home longer. Dementia rates are expected to soar because people are living longer, making the finding especially significant for public health.

Other areas of interest include whether exercise programs for people with dementia could reduce healthcare costs, decrease mortality and improve quality of life for patients, which was not determined by the Cochrane reviewers.

Cochrane Library
DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006489.pub3
Dec. 4, 2013

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons