Increased physical fitness may offset cognitive deterioration in dementia

December 21, 2017, University College London
Credit: MabelAmber/Flickr

Physical fitness is associated with better cognitive performance in older adults with dementia, according to a new study from UCL.

The positive effects were found to be independent of past levels of exercise and illness duration, suggesting it's never too late to benefit from good levels of physical , even after the onset of .

For the study, published today in Frontiers in Public Health, researchers used a range of different cognitive tests including verbal fluency and memory tasks, alongside questionnaires on physical fitness and lifestyle to examine 30 adults with dementia and 40 adults without. Participants were over 65 and living in England.

The researchers found that physical activities such as lifting things, ability to balance, taking a brisk walk or stairs instead of lifts improved the ability to plan, organise and remember things—which are cognitive functions known to deteriorate with dementia.

"Our paper provides empirical support for the cognitive benefits of interventions promoting physical fitness for individuals with dementia. We understand that living with dementia poses many challenges to individuals and their families and the idea of improving their physical fitness may seem like an unachievable target. However, we encourage increased physical fitness in any way, even what may seem like minor steps," said the lead author of the study, Alice Hollamby (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health).

"Even just helping out around the house or in the garden, taking a short walk or swim, lifting things from a seated position could play a big part in slowing the progression of dementia."

The research suggests that a possible explanation for why adults who demonstrated increased levels of fitness performed better on cognitive tests is because stimulates blood circulation in frontal-striatal circuits (neural pathways that connect frontal lobe regions with the basal ganglia in the brain) helping to improve cognitive function. Previous animal studies have also suggested that aerobic exercise increases the blood level supply and the growth of new neurons in the brain leading to enhanced cognitive performance.

Co-author on the paper Dr. Eddy J. Davelaar (Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Birkbeck,) said: "We all know that we should embrace a healthy lifestyle to strengthen our physical and mental well-being. However, this is not to say that when one develops dementia, all hope is lost. Our findings suggest that prior levels of physical activity did not influence the association between and physical fitness. This means it is never too late to start.

"In addition, when reclassifying all participants according to health status and physical fitness level, most of the people with dementia and high fitness levels were misclassified as cognitively healthy. We are looking at extending this work to incorporate additional measures of physical and cognitive fitness, as well as the impact of age-appropriate interventions."

The researchers highlighted that dementia and cognitive impairment cost the UK economy approximately £26 billion per year. The number of people with dementia in England and Wales has been projected to increase by 57% from 2016 to 2040, primarily because of extended life expectancy. Finding ways to slow its severity and progression could have life-changing effects for the 800,000 people estimated to be living with dementia in the UK.

Senior author of the study, Dr. Dorina Cadar (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) added: "Dementia is such a cruel disease which causes confusion and disorientation to the sufferer and enormous distress to their families and loved ones. Our study has helped to identify risk factors that could modify the rate of cognitive deterioration and disease progression. It is very interesting to observe that the level of could hamper the progress of in individuals with different stages of dementia. This gives us hope that ensuring a reasonable level of physical activity and optimal fitness could bring extra years of cognitive spark to those with dementia."

Explore further: No interventions proven to prevent late-life dementia

More information: Alice Hollamby et al. Increased Physical Fitness Is Associated with Higher Executive Functioning in People with Dementia, Frontiers in Public Health (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00346

Related Stories

No interventions proven to prevent late-life dementia

December 18, 2017
There is no proven intervention for preventing late-life dementia. Researchers from the Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) reviewed published research to determine if physical activity, prescription medications, ...

Physical activity in midlife not linked to cognitive fitness in later years, long-term study shows

August 24, 2017
A study led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers that tracked activity levels of 646 adults over 30 years found that, contrary to previous research, exercise in mid-life was not linked to cognitive ...

Higher risk of dementia among frail older adults

November 16, 2017
The risk of developing dementia is around 3.5 times higher in frail older adults than in their non-frail peers, according to a new study from UCL.

How physical exercise prevents dementia

July 21, 2017
Numerous studies have shown that physical exercise seems beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Now researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have explored in one of the first studies ...

New research suggests high-intensity exercise boosts memory

November 22, 2017
The health advantages of high-intensity exercise are widely known but new research from McMaster University points to another major benefit: better memory.

Self-rated physical fitness in midlife an indicator of dementia risk

February 26, 2014
How would you rate your own physical fitness? Is it good, satisfactory or maybe even poor? Surprisingly, your answer may reveal your future risk of getting dementia.

Recommended for you

Alzheimer's disease: Neuronal loss very limited

January 17, 2018
Frequently encountered in the elderly, Alzheimer's is considered a neurodegenerative disease, which means that it is accompanied by a significant, progressive loss of neurons and their nerve endings, or synapses. A joint ...

Anxiety: An early indicator of Alzheimer's disease?

January 12, 2018
A new study suggests an association between elevated amyloid beta levels and the worsening of anxiety symptoms. The findings support the hypothesis that neuropsychiatric symptoms could represent the early manifestation of ...

One of the most promising drugs for Alzheimer's disease fails in clinical trials

January 11, 2018
To the roughly 400 clinical trials that have tested some experimental treatment for Alzheimer's disease and come up short, we can now add three more.

Different disease types associated with distinct amyloid-beta prion strains found in Alzheimer's patients

January 9, 2018
An international team of researchers has found different disease type associations with distinct amyloid-beta prion strains in the brains of dead Alzheimer's patients. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National ...

Advances in brain imaging settle debate over spread of key protein in Alzheimer's

January 5, 2018
Recent advances in brain imaging have enabled scientists to show for the first time that a key protein which causes nerve cell death spreads throughout the brain in Alzheimer's disease - and hence that blocking its spread ...

Molecular mechanism behind HIV-associated dementia revealed

January 5, 2018
For the first time, scientists have identified and inhibited a molecular process that can lead to neurodegeneration in patients with HIV, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published in Nature Communications.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.