Evidence review shows exercise may benefit people with dementia

A review published by The Cochrane Collaboration shows that exercise may help improve cognition for people with dementia.

Posted on 4th December 2013

A systematic review of trials into exercise has shown it may help improve cognition for people with dementia and their ability to perform day to day activities. The review is published by The Cochrane Collaboration.

Researchers, led by a team at the University of Alberta in Canada, carried out a review of exercise trials that had previously been carried in people with dementia, to assess whether the overall evidence pointed to any benefits for exercise for people with dementia or their carers. A previous Cochrane review in 2008 was unable to show any strong evidence that exercise can help people with the condition, because too few trials had investigated the issue. In contrast, for the latest review the results of 16 trials with a total of 937 participants were evaluated.

Detailed analysis found that eight trials, with a total of 329 participants, showed exercise programmes may have a positive impact on cognitive functioning for people with dementia. In addition, data from six trials (with a total of 289 participants) showed that people with dementia were more able to carry out daily activities as a result of taking part in an exercise programme. However, there were large variations in the results of these trials, leading the reviewers to interpret the findings with some caution.

Further analysis showed some evidence that exercise may help reduce the burden for carers, but with only one trial reporting data on the impact for carers, the reviewers were unable to draw any firm conclusions. None of the trials included in the review investigated the effect of exercise on other outcomes such as mortality, or general quality of life for carers.

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“Systematic reviews are an excellent way of pulling together the best research to get a clearer picture of the evidence on a topic. With more evidence now available, this review shows possible benefits to exercise for people with dementia, though as the authors highlight, how far those benefits may extend is not yet fully understood. We do know that exercise is an important part of keeping healthy, and though we can’t say that exercise will prevent dementia, evidence does suggest it can help reduce the risk of the condition as part of a healthy lifestyle.

“Continued investment in research is vital if we are to find ways to help people with dementia, which affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. This review suggests there are things people can do to help the symptoms of dementia, but we still lack treatments capable of stopping the diseases that cause it – research is the only answer.”

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