Study: Exercise reduces need for ADL assistance in those with dementia

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Annika Toots
Annika Toots

Regular exercise improves balance for people with some types of dementia and reduces their need for assistance with activities of daily living, according to newly published research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The investigators, from Umeå University in Sweden, studied 186 residents of 16 residential care facilities. All were aged more than 65 years, had dementia and needed ADL assistance.

The study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Members of one group participated in a high-intensive, functional exercise program (similar to everyday activities) led by physiotherapists. The program included various functional exercises that aimed to improve leg strength, balance and walking. Sessions ran for 45 minutes each, two to three times per week, for four months. Members of the other group participated in stimulating activities such as group conversations, singing and reading out loud.

All participants were tested before the study began as well as four and seven months after completion of the program. The researchers found that performing regular functional exercise can lead to an improved quality of life.

“Regular exercise has a positive effect on people with dementia and should, therefore, be included in the care in residential care facilities,” says Annika Toots, the university doctoral student who was the first author of the article. “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.”

Due to the progressive course of dementia, all participants' abilities to independently manage everyday activities deteriorated over the course of the study. The deterioration occurred at a slower pace in the exercise group, however, and members of that group had improved balance.

The positive effects of the exercise varied depending on the type of dementia. The group with vascular dementia saw better effects from exercising than did participants with Alzheimer's disease. The authors, therefore, stress that it is important to identify and consider a resident's type of dementia before formulating an exercise plan.

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