Why Exercise is The Key to Improving Motor Skills in People with Dementia

 In General

isn’t just a disease that affects the mind.  As it slowly steals away cherished memories, dementia
can also cause an increasing loss of basic physical skills, such as getting up
from a chair to stretch or even going for a walk.   

But there is
hope from a 2013 study conducted by the University of Arizona in Tucson.(1)

This study
found that in dementia patients, increasing the intensity of the exercises used
in a physical therapy program improved balance, leg strength and the ability to
change positions. These physical improvements can help reduce falls, preserve
independence and improve the overall quality of life for the patient with
dementia, as well as their families and caregivers.

 Other studies have shown that patients with
dementia don’t do well in rehabilitation programs.  But this could possibly be due to the fact
that the rehabilitation program itself did not take into account certain
limitations dementia patients have such as memory loss, difficulty speaking,
difficulty understanding speech or simply a lack of motivation. 

Based on the
results of the University of Arizona study, a rehabilitation program for
dementia patients must be specific to their needs and include the appropriate
exercise intensity and for a long enough period of time.

This is
crucial to remember if most elderly patients are going to be helped.  In the United States, up to eighty percent of
elderly patients that are part of a physical therapy program have some type of
mental impairment, including dementia.    

factors are further reinforced by a 2011 study conducted in Germany.  Elderly geriatric patients were divided into
two groups of 74 patients each. The first group received a specially designed
physical therapy program that took into account the challenges of people with
dementia which included additional intensive exercises. The second group
received the usual physical therapy program that the hospital provided.

The results
showed that compared to patients receiving typical physical therapy, those in
the specially designed program with increased exercise intensity had
significant improvements in their physical abilities and on follow-up.  What’s
remarkable is that these improvements lasted nine months, even without
continued training!

The takeaway
message is this: People with dementia can benefit greatly from an intensive
physical therapy program focused on maintaining strength, balance and the ability
to walk.    This
will go far to help the dementia patient with overall health, well-being and independence.

The ARPF has
been working with this group of researchers and funded a pilot study called
Promoting Virtual Balance Exercise to Prevent Falls and Improve Cognition in
Older Adults, which is in its final stages. The results are expected in the
Fall of 2014. For more details about our Alzheimer’s prevention research
click here.


  1. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/271098.php
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