Intense Exercise Fails to Boost Cognition in Dementia Patients

Exercise does not delay cognitive decline in people with dementia

Exercise does not delay cognitive decline in people with dementia

A new research suggests that moderate to high-intensity exercise does not slow cognitive decline in people with dementia.

Dr Doug Brown, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer Society said, "With the number of people living with dementia set to rise from 850,000 to 1 million by 2021, understanding and developing ways to slow this increase is more important than ever".

Patients from memory clinics across 15 regions of England were invited to take part in the study.

Indeed, participants who had taken part in an exercise programme had slightly worse scores in an Alzheimer's assessment when they were tested a year later. There were no differences in secondary outcomes or preplanned subgroup analyses by dementia type, severity of cognitive impairment, sex, and mobility.

There were also no differences between the groups in the other outcomes assessed, such as the number of falls and quality of life.

"A moderate- to high-intensity aerobic and strength exercise training program does not slow cognitive impairment in people with mild-to-moderate dementia", the authors write. But the authors said the benefits "do not translate into improvements in cognitive impairment, activities in daily living, behaviour, or health related quality of life".

However, a new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that exercise may not help dementia sufferers.


It is well known that exercise is beneficial for physical and mental wellbeing, improving strength and cardiovascular fitness as well as boosting mood and self-esteem. "Exergaming is one more thing that could be added to the arsenal of tools to fight back against this cruel disease".

These results disagree with several small studies about the benefits of exercise in dementia patients, but "our study was much larger and hence less prone to error", Lamb said.

Although a short-term improvement in physical fitness was reported among patients in the exercise group, cognitive impairment after 12 months had declined a similar amount in both groups. While some of the headlines were a bit alarmist - such as The Independent's "Exercise could make dementia progression worse not better" - most of the reports were balanced and accurate.

The DAPA trial was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and received additional support from the NIHR Local Clinical Research Networks and NIHR Oxford CLAHRC and Biomedical Research Centre.

People taking part in RCTs usually do not know whether they're in the treatment or control group, but this was impossible to hide for an exercise study.

According to Alzheimer's Research UK, the average annual cost per person for someone with dementia, with regards to NHS care, care homes, and unpaid care from friends and relatives, can be huge. Compliance with the exercise program was good.

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