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Exercise Boosts Brain Function in Dementia Patients

Update Date: Dec 04, 2013 12:18 PM EST

Exercise may improve brain function in older adults with dementia, according to a new study.

Previous research suggests that exercise might be useful in treating or slowing dementia.  Studies linked exercise to boosts in cognitive functioning, like improving memory, attention and the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

After reviewing eight studies involving 329 people, researchers found that exercise could improve cognitive functioning. Six studies revealed that exercise improves the ability of seniors with dementia to complete daily activities like walking or getting up from a chair.

"In our previous review, we were unable to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of exercise in older people with dementia, due to a shortage of appropriate trials," researcher Dorothy Forbes, an Associate Professor of Nursing who works at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, said in a news release. "Following this new review, we are now able to conclude that there is promising evidence for exercise programs improving cognition and the ability to carry out daily activities. However, we do still need to be cautious about how we interpret these findings."

Researchers noted that more studies are needed to see if exercise improves challenging behaviors or depression in seniors with dementia. Future studies should also focus on whether exercise can help people with dementia remain at home for longer.

"Clearly, further research is needed to be able to develop best practice guidelines to enable healthcare providers to advise people with dementia living at home or in institutions," said Forbes. "We also need to understand what level and intensity of exercise is beneficial for someone with dementia."

The findings are published in the journal The Cochrane Library

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