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Drug-free therapy staves off cognitive decline in dementia

01/12/2011

German researchers have found a combination of behavioural and cognitive exercises can help slow cognitive decline for people with dementia. A trial of the therapy also found people with the condition were more able to carry out daily living activities such as gardening or food preparation.

Researchers at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, studied 61 patients in five nursing homes in Bavaria over the course of a year. Half of the patients were enrolled on a programme of ‘MAKS’ therapy for two hours a day, six days a week in addition to their usual treatment, while the other half received only their usual treatment. MAKS therapy involved a combination of motor stimulation activities such as bowling or croquet, practice in ‘daily living activities’ such as gardening, cognitive stimulation exercises and a ‘spiritual element’ such as a group song or a discussion about a topic such as happiness.

After one year, those on the MAKS therapy had maintained cognitive function and the ability to carry out daily activities, while those who were not receiving the therapy had declined on both measures. The effect was far greater for people with mild to moderate dementia than those with severe dementia. The researchers estimated the therapy’s cost to be less than €10 a day per person, and argue that with no adverse side effects, the treatment would be a cost-effective way of helping people with mild to moderate dementia.

The results are published in the journal BMC Medicine today.

The researchers now want to see larger studies to further evaluate the treatment. They also hope to investigate how long the benefits of MAKS therapy may be maintained and whether it could help patients who are not in a nursing home.

Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“It’s believed that cognitive stimulation can be an effective method of helping people cope with the symptoms of mild to moderate dementia, and this research is a useful reminder that there are non-drug treatments for the condition. The results of this small study suggest that ‘MAKS’ therapy may bring even bigger benefits than cognitive stimulation alone, and if these findings can be replicated in large-scale studies, this could greatly improve the lives of people with dementia. It will also be important to see how long the benefits might last.

“While any advance that can help people cope with their symptoms is to be welcomed, we still lack a way to prevent dementia or stop it in its tracks. With 820,000 people in the UK affected by dementia, we urgently need to invest in research to find treatments that could stop the condition.”

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