Dementia: Exercise may not slow development of condition researchers claim

Study Exercise doesn't slow progression of dementia

Currently, as a dementia therapy that does not involve medication, the NHS recommends group cognitive stimulation therapy classes, where sufferers undertake exercises created to improve their memory, problem-solving skills and language ability.

As part of the activity, they lifted weights while getting out of a chair and spent 20 minutes on a fixed cycle.

"The exercise training programme improved physical fitness, but there were no noticeable improvements in other clinical outcomes".

The idea that both moderate- to high-intensity aerobic (such as brisk walking or cycling) and strengthening exercises might delay cognitive decline has gained considerable credence in recent years.

Although the difference between the two groups was small, the researchers say exercise should not be recommended for people with dementia and called for future trials to 'consider the possibility that some types of exercise intervention might worsen cognitive impairment'. The participants were also encouraged to do home exercises for an additional hour per week.

The 494 participants were randomly assigned to either the control group (165 people), who continued with all usual care, or the exercise group (329 people), who underwent an exercise programme as well as usual care. Compliance with exercise was good and participants were assessed again at six and 12 months. "We had hoped to see improvements in behavior and function in activities of daily living, but these did not occur either".

The authors wrote: "This indicates greater cognitive impairment in the exercise group, although the average difference is small and clinical relevance uncertain".

The authors listed several limitations to their study.

"I was disappointed by the results, although I probably wasn't completely surprised", Sarah Lamb, the study's lead author and a researcher at Oxford University, told Guardian reporter Sarah Bosely.

An Alzheimer's Society investigation has discovered that 50,000 people with dementia were admitted to A&E across the country in the previous year, because inadequate social care is leaving them unprotected from falls and infections.

"We don't want to alarm members of the public with dementia and their families", she said".

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society, added:"The results are somewhat surprising as we would anticipate that exercise would have positive effects".

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. They were recruited through memory clinics - specialist services that help people who have problems with their memory - and GP surgeries.

It's important to note this does not change what we know about exercise's ability to protect against dementia.

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