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Exercise may improve cognition in patients with dementia, say researchers

Exercise may significantly improve the cognitive functioning of people with dementia and their ability to carry out daily activities, results from a gold-standard review show.

Among 16 trials included in the Cochrane Collaboration review, eight looked at cognitive functioning in 329 patients and found significant improvements in patients’ cognition – mainly measured using the mini mental state examination (MMSE).

Meanwhile in six trials, with 289 patients, results showed patients experienced significant improvements in activities of daily living, which included walking short distances or getting up from a chair.

However, the authors, led by Dr Dorothy Forbes from University of Alberta, Canada, said the sizes of these effects on cognition and daily activities varied substantially among different trials and they found little evidence on the impact of exercise on other outcomes.

They said the results were ‘promising’ but more research needs to be done particularly on the impact of exercise on challenging behaviours or depression as well as outcomes such as quality of life and benefits for carers.

Dr Forbes said: ‘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.

‘We also need to understand what level and intensity of exercise is beneficial for someone with dementia.’

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013; Available online 4 December

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