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Exercise does not slow cognitive decline in dementia patients, study finds

GPs should not recommend exercise as a treatement for dementia as it does not help to slow cognitive decline, a study has concluded.

A BMJ study, carried out by researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Coventry and Warwick, followed 494 people with mild to moderate dementia for a year.

Around two-thirds of the patients were assigned to attend regular exercise sessions in a gym for up to four months, after which they were asked to exercise at home for 150 minutes each week.

Meanwhile, the other third received standard care, which the study said included ‘a clinical assessment, prescription of symptomatic treatments, and brief advice about physical activity’.

The researchers found that cognitive impairment declined for both the exercise and standard care groups over 12 months, but declined more quickly in those who exercised. This was shown by an increase the the patients’ Alzheimer’s disease assessment score over time.

Patients in the exercise group started with a baseline score of 21.4, which researchers found increased to 22.9 after six months and 25.2 after a year.

But those patients who received standard care started at a baseline of 21.8 and saw their score increase to 22.4 after six months and just 23.8 after a year.

The researchers concluded that exercise programs ‘cannot be recommended’ for treating cognitive decline in dementia.

They said in the paper: ‘This exercise programme is not an effective way to manage cognitive impairment, functional impairment, or behavioural disturbances in older people with mild to moderate dementia.

‘Although moderate to high intensity exercise improves physical fitness, no clinical outcomes that we studied responded in a positive direction.’

This comes after earlier research found that exercise may improve the cognitive functioning of dementia patients but used the mini mental state examination (MMSE) to measure cognition.


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