Exercise may improve function in dementia patients

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Organized exercise designed to increase strength, flexibility, mobility and coordination may improve overall physical function among nursing home patients with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers report.

Alzheimer’s disease patients who have physically deteriorated are less able to perform activities of daily life, which, in turn, affects their quality of life. Despite the well-known physical benefits obtained from exercise, Professor Alejandro Lucia and colleagues in Spain found comparatively little research has focused on exercise training among patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

To address this, Lucia, of the Universidad Europea De Madrid, and collaborators compared the outcomes of 16 Alzheimer’s disease patients who were randomly assigned to receive normal care involving no programed exercise or to a12-week exercise program as part of their nursing home care.

Each group consisted of five women and three men of similar functional capacity at the start of the study. Participants’ average age was 73 years in the normal care group and 76 years in the exercise group, the investigators report in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.

Exercise sessions, held 3 days each week, included 75 minutes of warm-up and cool-down stretching, inside walking, joint mobility activities, elastic exercise-band resistance training, and coordination exercises using foam balls.

Lucia’s team reports the exercise group had significant improvements in measures of upper and lower body strength and flexibility; agility and balance; walking abilities; and endurance. Exercise participants also showed greater ability to independently perform activities of daily living such as rising from a chair, transferring from bed to chair, bathing, or dressing.

By contrast, the normal care group showed no changes over the 12-week period.

These findings show that shorter duration exercise programs “are sufficient to induce significant improvements in patients’ functional performance and independence,” the investigators state. Adherence to the training program was nearly 100 percent, they add.

While more evidence of efficacy is needed from larger study populations, Lucia and colleagues suggest similar programs could be included in the overall nursing home care of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

SOURCE: International Journal of Sports Medicine, October 2008.

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