The effects of exercise on dementia sufferers

A recent study on dementia, a brain disease that can cause a long term and gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember, has shown that working out has no impact on the progress of the disease.

In 2015, close to 70,000 UK citizens died from dementia -related conditions, while at the current rate, 1.2 million will be living with the condition by 2040. In 2012 David Cameron, the former prime minister, made finding a cure, or a remedy for symptoms a national research project. It is estimated that dementia sufferers will cost the British economy £3 billion pounds by 2030.

Over a four-month period, a team from Oxford and the University of Warwick, tested an exercise regime aimed at improving strength and aerobic fitness of people with dementia. 494 people, with an average age of 77, were recruited from memory clinics across England

The exercise programme improved physical health of all involved, however this did not translate into improvements in their day-to-day lives. Where there was no change in their independence, or any quality of life or behavioural benefits.

Lead author of a paper in the British Medical Journal, Professor Sarah Lamb said she was disappointed with the results “although I probably wasn’t completely surprised”.

The results showed there to be negative effects of doing too much exercise as a patient with dementia. Those who completed the training were found to have worse cognitive scores, thinking and rationalising abilities, than those who did not. The training made them physically fitter but was not found to slow the progress of the disease.

Lamb was keen to emphasise that those with dementia should still partake in exercise, such as swimming or walking. “We don’t want to alarm members of the public with dementia and their families. We used a very specialised exercise programme. We know that gentle exercise is good for you. We don’t want people to stop what they are doing,” she said.

In Australia, dementia is the second leading cause of death each year, contributing to 5% of female deaths and 10% of deaths in males. Nationwide there are an estimated 425, 000 Australians living with the disease. Three in ten people over the age of 85 live with the disease while one in ten of those over 65 do the same. By 2025, 536,000 will be expected to be living with the disease, according to Dementia Australia.

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