Aerobic Exercise as a Treatment for Alzheimer’s Dementia

Although there are many forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia is probably one of the most well-known by the general population. Alzheimer’s dementia is characterized by changes in the brain that lead to cognitive decline, including memory loss, speech difficulty, mood and personality changes, and difficulties with functional mobility. Alzheimer’s dementia occurs most often in the elderly population (i.e. 65 years and older), but age is not the determining factor. Early onset Alzheimer’s dementia can occur in individuals under the age of 65 as well. Many studies have been performed in an attempt to determine the exact causes of Alzheimer’s dementia, but a full understanding has not yet been reached. What is known is that changes occur in the brain, and specifically in the areas of the brain responsible for memory, speech, and motor function, that negatively impacts the brain’s ability to function efficiently. Over time, the effects of these changes become more pronounced and lead to visible symptoms in a person.

 

Several medications have been developed to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia, some of which treat mild to moderate symptoms and other of which treat moderate to severe symptoms. However, while medications have been shown to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s dementia to varying degrees, there is no cure currently. Plus, as with any medication, side effects are inevitable. As such, recent studies have explored the use of exercise to address the symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia.

 

One such study in 2017 by Morris and others entitled “Aerobic exercise for Alzheimer’s disease: A randomized control pilot trial” looked at the effects of aerobic exercise versus stretching and toning exercise on 76 adults showing signs of early onset Alzheimer’s dementia. Participants were randomly divided into two groups, one of which engaged in 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, and the other of which engaged in core strengthening exercise, band resisted exercise, yoga, and Tai Chi. Both groups participated in the study for a total of 26 weeks. At the end of the study, it was found that both groups showed improvements in general function, but those who engaged in aerobic exercise exhibited better memory performance and less hippocampal atrophy (i.e. less deterioration of the portion of the brain responsible for memory).

 

Based on the results of these recent studies, it can be concluded that exercising is a promising alternative to oral medication when searching for treatments for Alzheimer’s dementia. Because exercise, especially for those with cognitive dysfunction, is best performed under professional supervision, physical therapy is an excellent way to administer appropriate exercise for those suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia. We here at Advanced PMR are more than happy to provide those services. So, if you or anyone you know may be looking for a way to address the symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia without resorting to medication, feel free to reach out!

 

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Rob Kohutanycz, PT, DPT

Posted in: Fitness, Health & Wellness

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