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Study finds exercise slows rate of dementia


22 May 2006
Exercise can slow the rate of dementia and improve the day-to-day lives of dementia sufferers, a new study by Southern Cross University has found.

Dr John Stevens and Mark Killeen, from SCU's Department of Nursing and Health Care Practices, conducted a randomised trial involving 75 residents of six aged care facilities on the North Coast of NSW.

The study showed a slower progression of the symptoms of dementia in the participants who undertook a specially designed exercise program and improvements in some of the activities of daily living.

"Exercise has been touted as being beneficial in delaying, if not preventing, dementia but it is difficult to find scientific research to back that up. This study does show that exercise has a direct effect on the symptoms of dementia," Dr Stevens said.

"A regular exercise program in aged care facilities can affect positive change in disability and thus dependence of residents with dementia. This could have significant implications for nursing practice and overall quality of life for residents."

The participants in the study, all with mild to moderate dementia, were randomly assigned to one of three groups over a period of 12 weeks: no intervention; a social visit three times a week for 30 minutes; and a specifically designed exercise program three times a week for 30 minutes.

Dr Stevens said the exercise program was designed by SCU's Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management for frail aged people, including those in wheelchairs. The program, accompanied by age appropriate music, was based on joint and large muscle group movement with an intention to create gentle aerobic exertion.

The participants were assessed at the start and the end of the study using the 'clock-drawing tool', a commonly used test that can help diagnose and monitor the progression of dementia.

The Revised Elderly Disability Scale (REDS) was also used to measure the disability of participants in a range of categories related to activities of daily living and to calculate and track the amount of nursing care a resident required.

"The results indicated that the groups undertaking the exercise showed a slower progression of some of the symptoms of dementia as measured by a clock-drawing test," Dr Stevens said.

"The results also showed that those undertaking exercise improved in some of their activities of daily living, specifically self-help skills, sociability and in overall levels of confusion and appropriate behaviour.

"Some of the symptoms, such as unruly behaviour, were actually reversed."

The study also showed that regular structured social interaction either by social visit or other activity could improve the sociability of people with dementia.

Dr Stevens said while study demonstrated the need for ongoing research in this field it provided further evidence to support the link between exercise and ageing well.

Dr Stevens, who has recently published a book 'Is it dementia or just old age? Everything you need to know' said while the study demonstrated the need for ongoing research in this field, it also provided further evidence to support the link between exercise and ageing well.