• Dementia signs and symptoms include memory loss, putting items in the wrong place and getting lost in familiar settings
  • Treating dementia with exercise may not slow the condition, a study has claimed
  • Treatment recommended for dementia consists of memory games, medication and exercise, among others
  • Exercise can still be useful for preventing other conditions like diabetes, and will improve your strength and fitness

Dementia signs and symptoms tend to appear in later life, when your risk of developing the condition rises.

You are also more at risk from the condition if you are overweight, have high blood pressure or have high cholesterol, among other factors.

Your risk is also increased by factors you can’t control, such as whether you’re female, of south east asian descent or whether someone in your family has had the condition.

Treatment recommended to slow the symptoms has traditionally involved keeping mentally active, exercising regularly and medication.

However, a new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that exercise may not help dementia sufferers.

A moderate to high intensity aerobic and strength exercise training programme does not slow cognitive impairment in people with mild to moderate dementia.

Study authors

“A moderate to high intensity aerobic and strength exercise training programme does not slow cognitive impairment in people with mild to moderate dementia,” says the study.

“The exercise training programme improved physical fitness, but there were no noticeable improvements in other clinical outcomes.”

The study, led by researchers from Oxford University, followed 494 dementia sufferers with an average age of 77, of which two thirds were assigned to an aerobic and strength exercise programme while the rest had usual care.

It found that after 12 months of exercise, both groups mental ability had declined, but there was a greater decline in the exercise group, although this difference was small.

dementia signs symptoms exercise

Dementia treatment: Exercise may not slow the condition

dementia signs symptoms exercise

Dementia treatment: The exercise group showed a slightly higher mental decline

Exercise undertaken by the aerobic and strength exercise group involved two gym sessions lasting for an hour to one hour and 30 minutes twice a week for four months.

As part of the activity, they lifted weights while getting out of a chair and spent 20 minutes on a fixed cycle.

Professor Sue Lamb, who led the study, said that people with dementia for two or three years could still do exercises to improve fitness and muscle strength.

“But these benefits do not, however, translate into improvements in cognitive impairment, activities in daily living, behaviour, or health-related quality of life,” she added.

Responding to the study, Dr James Pickett, Head of Research and Development at the Alzheimer’s Society said, “we know that physical exercise can reduce a person’s risk of developing it, but we understand little about its effect on cognitive decline.

“In this research, although exercise increased the physical fitness of people involved it did not ease their cognitive symptoms.

“It’s important to recognise that the study didn’t address how much participants had exercised in the past, and this could have some impact on results.”

dementia signs symptoms exercise

Dementia treatment: Signs and symptoms include memory loss

Currently, as a dementia therapy that does not involve medication, the NHS recommends group cognitive stimulation therapy classes, where sufferers undertake exercises designed to improve their memory, problem-solving skills and language ability.

It also recommends cognitive rehabilitation, working with a trained professional and friend or relative to achieve a personal goal, or reminiscence, encouraging the sufferer to talk about past life experiences.

“There is at present no cure for dementia. But there are medicines and other treatments that can help with dementia symptoms,” the NHS said on its website.

You may also be able to lower your risk of dementia by eating a healthy, balanced diet, losing weight and not drinking too much alcohol.

These recommendations were made by the NHS, which added, “there’s good evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing dementia when you’re older”.

“Experts agree that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain.”

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