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Exercise for People With Dementia Improves Balance, Reduces Dependence

January 20, 2016

UMEÅ, Sweden — January 20, 2016 — Regular exercise improves balance for people with dementia and reduces dependence on assistance, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In a unique study on people with dementia living in residential care facilities, researchers from Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden, found that regular functional exercise, similar to everyday activities and performed at high intensity, can improve balance and reduce dependence on assistance in activities of daily living, such as for instance mobility or toilet visits.

Training sessions lasting 45 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week, can lead to an improved quality of life for individuals suffering from dementia.

“Regular exercise has a positive effect on people with dementia and should, therefore, be included in the care in residential care facilities,” said Annika Toots, PhD, Umeå University. “Studies such as the present one are rare, but provide important knowledge to further build upon in order to develop care of people with dementia as a cost-effective means of meeting future challenges, and help individuals to maintain independence longer.”

The study involved 186 people with dementia in 16 different residential care facilities in the Umeå area. All participants were aged 65 years and older and in need of personal care. The participants were randomised to receive high-intensive, functional exercise programme led by physiotherapists or activities of group conversations, singing, and reading aloud sessions. The purpose of this was to control the positive effects that stimulation through togetherness and attention have.

The exercise programme included various functional exercises that aimed to improve leg strength, balance, and walking.

All participants were tested before, as well as 4 and 7 months after the completion of the programme.

Due to the progressive course of dementia, deterioration was noted in all participants’ abilities to independently manage everyday activities. However, the deterioration occurred at a slower pace in the exercise group and they showed an improved balance.

The positive effects of the exercise varied depending on the type of dementia, where the group with vascular dementia experienced better effects of exercising than participants with Alzheimer’s disease. To better plan and carry out exercise for people with dementia, it can, therefore, be of importance to identify the type of dementia.