Physical activity may improve memory, attention and general cognitive function among the growing number of people with dementia.
The findings, published Dec. 4 in the Cochrane Library, are among the first to suggest that regular exercise — which previous studies have said can help prevent dementia — can also bring some relief from its symptoms.
“There is promising evidence that exercise programmes can have a significant impact in improving ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and possibly in improving cognition in people with dementia”, say the authors, although they advise caution in interpreting them.
The study, led by Ms Dorothy Forbes, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Alberta in Canada, is a meta-analysis of 16 previous studies. It updates a similar exercise Cochrane undertook in 2008 that examined four pieces of research and produced no concrete findings.
Exercise may, therefore, indirectly benefit family caregivers and the healthcare system by reducing some of the burden of dementia.
The new study, though, has led the researchers to conclude: “It is thought that exercise might be useful in treating dementia or slowing its progression, though improvements in the ability to carry out everyday tasks and positive effects on mental processes such as memory and attention.
Dr. Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Even in the later stages of dementia people can benefit from different types of activities such as gardening or singing or even seated exercises, when they’re no longer able to stand.”