Exercise could reverse early stage dementia
Doctors have long urged people to exercise throughout their lives as it is known to reduce the risk of health problems and illnesses. But now experts have found evidence that exercising can actually be used to treat dementia once it has been diagnosed.
The study took a group of volunteers, aged 55 to 89, and put them through a 45-minute intensive exercise session in a gym four times a week for six months during which they had to get their heart rate up to at least 70 per cent of its maximum – the pace of a gentle jog for most people.
Participants suffering from early stage dementia when they started the programme made improvements in their ability to plan, multi-task and carry out normal daily activities. Blood flow to the brain increased and they showed lower levels of a protein called tau, which attacks brain cells and is thought to play a role in Alzheimer's disease.
While, a second group, who simply did gentle stretches, showed none of the improvements seen by the first. In fact, their brains shrank, blood flow to the brain remained poor, and their ability to carry out normal tasks continued to decline.
Study leader Professor Laura Baker, of Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, explained she is trying to discover if exercise could be a better type of treatment than any drug.
“If you could bottle all of these effects and put it in a pill, would we be in a different place now?” she explained at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Toronto. “These people are sedentary, they have mild cognitive impairment, they are not going to do this on their own,” she added, cautioning supervision of the exercise sessions.
The researchers also investigated whether exercise could reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease – an advanced form of dementia. The same exercise programme was repeated among 76 patients with Alzheimer's. Results were not quite as dramatic as among the affected patients, but Professor Baker's team is now repeating the trial on a much larger group.
With no treatment yet available to effectively treat patients suffering with dementia, Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer's Research UK added: “With limited treatment options for people with memory decline or dementia, it's important to explore a range of possible therapeutic approaches.”