Exercise Slows Alzheimer’s Disease Decline

Healthnotes Newswire (April 5, 2007)—Exercise prevents some of aging’s effects on the mind, but until now it was not known if people with Alzheimer’s disease could function better and change the course of their disease by exercising. Now a new study finds that they can.

People with Alzheimer’s disease experience a chronic, progressive loss of mental functioning known as dementia, which affects their ability to perform self-care activities such as getting up from a bed or chair, bathing, dressing, using the toilet, walking, and eating.

Alzheimer’s disease often becomes progressively worse over a period of decades. Characteristically, short-term memory slowly deteriorates, confusion sets in, and basic functioning is lost. People in the late stage of Alzheimer’s disease often need round-the-clock care.

The new study, published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, looked at the effects of an exercise program in nursing home residents with mild to severe Alzheimer’s disease. The 134 people were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a routine medical care group.

The exercisers engaged in twice weekly, one-hour exercise sessions that involved stretching and strength, flexibility, and balance training. Walking was required for at least half of each session.

After one year, people in the routine medical care group had a 29% decrease in their ability to perform daily living activities, compared with a 19% decrease for those in the exercise group. Within the exercise group, the people with the highest attendance at exercise sessions were better able to perform daily living activities than the people who had intermediate or low attendance.

Previous studies have shown that exercise can slow mental decline in older people and might prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; other studies have found that exercise can promote general health, increase mobility, and prevent depression in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The current study’s findings add evidence that exercise can positively change the course of Alzheimer’s disease by slowing the loss of basic self-care skills.

“This study provides evidence that a moderate exercise program conducted twice a week significantly slows, by approximately one-third, the progressive deterioration in ability to perform [daily living activities] in people with Alzheimer’s disease living in nursing homes,” the authors concluded. They added that the exercise program used in the study is simple and inexpensive, and therefore practical, for many nursing homes to implement.

(J Am Geriatr Soc 2007;55:158–65)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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