Why Exercise is The Key to Improving Motor Skills in People with Dementia

Exercise is The Key to Improving Motor Skills in People with Dementia

Dementia isn’t just a disease that affects the mind. As it slowly steals away cherished memories, dementia can also cause an increasing loss of basic physical skills, such as getting up from a chair to stretch or even going for a walk.
But there is hope from a 2013 study conducted by the University of Arizona in Tucson.(1)

This study found that in dementia patients, increasing the intensity of the exercises used in a physical therapy program improved balance, leg strength and the ability to change positions. These physical improvements can help reduce falls, preserve independence and improve the overall quality of life for the patient with dementia, as well as their families and caregivers.

Other studies have shown that patients with dementia don’t do well in rehabilitation programs. But this could possibly be due to the fact that the rehabilitation program itself did not take into account certain limitations dementia patients have such as memory loss, difficulty speaking, difficulty understanding speech or simply a lack of motivation.
Based on the results of the University of Arizona study, a rehabilitation program for dementia patients must be specific to their needs and include the appropriate exercise intensity and for a long enough period of time.

This is crucial to remember if most elderly patients are going to be helped. In the United States, up to eighty percent of elderly patients that are part of a physical therapy program have some type of mental impairment, including dementia.
These factors are further reinforced by a 2011 study conducted in Germany. Elderly geriatric patients were divided into two groups of 74 patients each. The first group received a specially designed physical therapy program that took into account the challenges of people with dementia which included additional intensive exercises. The second group received the usual physical therapy program that the hospital provided.

The results showed that compared to patients receiving typical physical therapy, those in the specially designed program with increased exercise intensity had significant improvements in their physical abilities and on follow-up. What’s remarkable is that these improvements lasted nine months, even without continued training!
The takeaway message is this: People with dementia can benefit greatly from an intensive physical therapy program focused on maintaining strength, balance and the ability to walk. This will go far to help the dementia patient with overall health, well-being and independence.
The ARPF has been working with this group of researchers and funded a pilot study called Promoting Virtual Balance Exercise to Prevent Falls and Improve Cognition in Older Adults, which is in its final stages. The results are expected in the Fall of 2014. For more details about our Alzheimer’s prevention research studies, click here.



Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
President and Medical Director
Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation



9 Replies to “Why Exercise is The Key to Improving Motor Skills in People with Dementia”

  1. Lori, I went to that link immediately after I read the article and searched their site but I couldn’t find the research paper or a summary of the findings. I spent a good amount of time there, but no luck. Maybe I’m just missing the obvious or am blind or… 🙁

      1. thanks, but this is based on what the paper says. I want to see the actual paper, the research itself. Maybe I can contact the researcher himself somehow from their website. I will try that.

  2. Wonderful information! I totally agree and believe in this. How do we get Memory Care units of ALFs to provide exercise and physical therapy to those with dementia? I worked at a very well known facility and this doesn’t happen. They are left in chairs and beds all day long.

    1. I agree Emily. this happens way too often. The more we join forces and work together to raise awareness to the general public and to business I believe this will be mandated to change. As they say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. thanks for writing

  3. While these patient lifts have been quite popular in European countries for some time, they are starting to pop-up in the home care, assisted living and emergency management services sectors in the United States. These types of lifts are not intimidating to the patient, nor are they bulky and heavy to move around. I think they deserve a strong look by the risk managers and caregivers in these areas to protect the patient, while assisting to mitigate / reduce worker’s compensation claims. Heritage Properties in Michigan implemented these and saw an 80% reduction in claims during the first 12 months. These’s something to say for that! Examples can be seen at http://www.mobilepatientlifts.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.