One of the challenges for individuals with dementia is a loss of independence that leaves them increasingly reliant on care. A new study from Umeå University in Sweden finds that exercise can benefit people with dementia, slowing their decline. The findings demonstrate that people with dementia who participate in a functional exercise program have improved balance and are less dependent on the assistance of others. These results could inform best practices for residential care programs.
The research is part of a larger study, the Umeå Dementia and Exercise Study (UMDEX), on people with dementia living in residential care facilities. The researchers evaluated 186 people with dementia, all over age 65. The participants were randomly divided into two groups. The experimental group took part in a high-intensive, functional exercise program aimed at improving leg strength, balance, and walking abilities. The control group participated in positive group activities like discussions, singing, and reading aloud. The group activities were meant to control for the positive effects of an exercise program. The researchers tested the participants at the outset of the study, and four and seven months after the program concluded.
Regular exercise led to improvements in individuals with dementia. Although all of the participants demonstrated some deterioration, which was expected due to the progressive nature of dementia, those who participated in the exercise program had a slower rate of decline. They exhibited improvements in balance and demonstrated a reduced need for assistance for everyday living tasks, in particular.
“Regular exercise has a positive effect on people with dementia and should, therefore, be included in the care in residential care facilities,” states first author of the study Annika Toots, Ph.D. student in the Department of Community Medicine. These types of studies can help “develop care of people with dementia as a cost-effective means of meeting future challenges, and help individuals to maintain independence longer.”
This research is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.