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Exercise Program Improves Physical and Mental Health in Residents with Dementia


Annals of Long-Term Care: Clinical Care and Aging. 2015;23(12):45.


ALTC Editors

In a new study, researchers from Norway show that a high intensity functional exercise program can have long-term benefits for nursing home residents with dementia.

Previous research has shown that exercise can have a positive effect on both physical and mental health in nursing home patients with dementia. However, whether these effects are lasting has not been previously evaluated.

Elisabeth Wiken Telenuis and colleagues from Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences and the Norwegian Center of Aging and Health, Tonsberg and Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway, sought to explore the long-term effects of a 12-week exercise program in nursing home residents with dementia. The study included participants from 18 different nursing homes in Norway who were older than 55 years of age (average age, 86.9 years), had mild or moderate dementia, were competent to consent to participate in the study, and were sufficiently able to stand and walk without assistance.

Qualifying participants were randomized to participant in the exercise program or to participate in a control activity in small groups twice per week. The exercise program consisted of intensive strengthening and balance exercises, whereas the control activities were low-intensity and included reading, playing games, and listening to music. 

After the 12-week intervention period ended, the participants received no further intervention for 6 months. Participants were evaluated on measures of physical function; dementia, cognition, and neuropsychiatric symptoms; depression; and quality of life. At the 6-month follow-up, the differences between the two groups on measures of physical function and dementia symptoms were significant. Nursing home residents who participated in the exercise program showed improvements in balance function and muscle strength, which translate to a reduction in the risk of falls for these residents. The participants also showed improvement on measures of mental health. In contrast, those that participated in the control activity showed deterioration in physical and mental functioning during the same time period. 

The results of the study demonstrate that the positive effects of exercise on balance and symptoms of agitation associated with dementia can be lasting. The findings were published in the journal BMC Geriatrics (2015;15:158). —Kara Rosania

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