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Exercise has a positive effect on the minds and bodies of elderly people with dementia

16 December 2014

The combination of walking and strength training has a positive effect on the physical fitness, memory and cognitive capacities of elderly people with dementia. It also enhances their ability to perform day-to-day activities which improve their overall quality of life. These are the conclusions of research carried out by human movement scientist Willem Bossers of the UMCG, who was awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 10 December. However, this positive effect soon disappears when the person concerned stops the exercise programme. Bossers therefore stresses the importance of exercise and strength training as a regular part of the daily care plan for elderly people with dementia.

Physical inactivity is common among elderly people with dementia. Previous research showed that only ten percent of this group take twenty minutes of continuous exercise once a year or more. Bossers examined the effects of exercise on both the physical and mental wellbeing of a group of over-75s with dementia living in a nursing home.

Walking and strength training

Bossers devised two different exercise programmes: a 9-week walking programme in which the participants went for a 30-minute walk four times a week, and a combination programme in which participants went for a 30-minute walk twice a week and spent another 30 minutes twice a week on strength training. The strength training involved exercises such as standing on their toes, raising their legs sideways and backwards and bending and stretching their legs while sitting on a chair.

Improvements in day-to-day life

The combination of walking and strength training produced the best effect, increasing the participants’ stamina, leg strength and balance, and improving their memories, their ability to recognize people and their concentration. As a result, they also had less difficulty performing day-to-day activities, such as making a sandwich or putting on their coat.

Maintaining quality of life

However, nine weeks after stopping the programme, the positive effects had all but disappeared. ‘An exercise programme like this should be a structural part of the daily care plan for elderly people with dementia’, says Bossers. ‘It helps to maintain, or even improve, their overall quality of life.’

Curriculum Vitae

Willem Bossers (Alkmaar, 1984) studied Human Movement Sciences at the University of Groningen. He conducted his research in the Department of Human Movement Sciences and Research Institute SHARE of the University Medical Center Groningen, with financial backing from the NutsOhra Fund. His thesis is entitled ‘Physical exercise and dementia; delaying cognitive and motor decline via exercise’. Bossers is now a postdoc researcher in the UMCG, where he is working on a follow-up study entitled ‘Laat het brein niet indutten; beweeg slim en verminder de kans op dementie’ (Don’t let your brain nod off; smart exercise reduces the risk of dementia) as part of the Deltaplan Dementie.

Source: press release UMCG/RUG

Last modified:17 December 2014 10.18 a.m.
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