Exercise can be a key factor to improving the cognitive abilities and possibly the quality of life for people with dementia, according to a growing body of medical research and a recent review of eight exercise trials by a group called the Cochrane Collaboration.
The eight exercise trails involved more than 300 patients suffering from dementia who either lived at home or in nursing homes. Though exercise did offer the patients many benefits, including being able to move about more on their own, rise from chairs with greater ease, and improving their thinking skills, it didn’t do anything to improve their moods.
More research will have to be conducted before it can be said that exercise has the possibility of preventing dementia, but exercise — along with a healthy lifestyle — can reduce one’s risk of getting the condition, and there is some optimism that it can also improve the quality of life of those people who already are suffering from it, according to Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimers Research UK,
In the UK alone, dementia affects approximately 800,000 people. The numbers of cases there and in the USA are increasing because people are experiencing longer life spans. One estimate is that by 2021, there will be a million people in the UK who have dementia.
Until a “cure” comes along, if there can ever be found one for the myriads of conditions that fall under the umbrella designation of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is one of these diseases/conditions includedunder this umbrella. Finding ways to improve the quality of life and overall health of people who have dementia is becoming ever more important and vital.
Among the complex set of factors involved in determining exactly how much exercise can be beneficial are things like the person’s initial overall health and age before beginning an exercise program. As University of Alberta researcher Dorothy Forbes states, it’s crucial “to understand what level and intensity of exercise is beneficial for someone with dementia.”
The systematic review that the researchers did was published in The Cochrane Library. There were altogether 329 people who took part in the eight trials analyzed in the study. The results of the overall study demonstrated a link between cognitive functioning, exercise, and the ease at carrying out everyday tasks.
What’s more, the data from six of the studies, involving a smaller but significant group of 289, showed that exercise could improve the ease by which people do daily activities like taking short strolls and their abilities to get out of a chair.
This current study updates a Cochrane review from 2008. Then, there were just four trials that had been conducted on the question of whether or not exercise benefits older people who have dementia.
In the earlier review, according to researcher Dorothy Forbes, the researchers “were unable to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of exercise in older people with dementia.” This was, Forbes went on, “due to a shortage of appropriate trials.”
The new review and study indicates that there is “promising evidence for exercise programs improving cognition and the ability to carry out daily activities.”
The eight trials the study analyzed didn’t provide the researchers with any insights on whether or not exercise programs effected the behavior, lifespan, or feelings of depression of people who have dementia, but the researchers think better-designed studies might eventually prove that exercise also plays a role in these three things.
Dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, isn’t a specific disease. About 60-80 percent of dementia cases are people who have Alzheimer’s disease. The numbers of people suffering from dementia around the world are growing, and people with dementia are presenting many challenges to health care systems. Exercise has shown much promise in helping dementia patients improve their thinking abilities and overall health.
Written by: Douglas Cobb