Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of people around the world but, to this day, scientists have yet to find a cure or a way to prevent it. Once a person, usually a senior in their mid-60s and above, has been diagnosed, doctors can only manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the brain disorder. Eventually, bit by bit, it will destroy the patient’s memory and thinking skills until they are unable to care for themselves.
More studies need to be done in order to better understand Alzheimer’s. There might be some good news.
A recent study is adding evidence to the claims that exercise, particularly aerobics, can reduce cognitive decline among patients with Alzheimer’s.
What the Science Says
The research involved 96 participants, all of whom are above the age of 66 and have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They were split into two groups. One group, which consists of 64 patients, was asked to partake in supervised cycling classes three times a week in the span of six months. The remaining 32 patients – the control group – did supervise stretching and a range of motion exercise classes for the same frequency and length.
The researchers monitored the heart rates of participants in both groups. They also helped the participants in the cycling group to reach 50 to 70 percent heart rate reserve and the control group to maintain less than 20 percent heart rate reserve.
Throughout the research, the cognition of the participants was also periodically tested.
By the end, the researchers found that, although participants in both groups did better in cognitive tests compared to if they continued regular treatment, those who cycled for six months showed greater results. The findings suggest that six months of aerobic exercise intervention can significantly reduce cognitive decline.
The paper, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in March 2021, was a pilot study that lays the ground for larger studies that will prove a greater association later on.
While the findings of the study are not conclusive, there has been previous research that supports the potential benefits of exercise to diminish the common symptoms of Alzheimer’s. One research involving mice from 2018 discovered that regular physical exercise can “clean up” the brain and allow the new nerve cells in the hippocampus, the region that plays a major role in learning and memory, to improve cognitive function.
What aerobic exercises can seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can do with a home health aid?
Seniors who do not have issues with mobility should enroll in dancing classes. Aside from being an enjoyable physical activity, dancing is an aerobic exercise that has also been proven to reverse the signs of aging in the brain.
One paper from 2017 found that dancing showed the most benefits in counteracting the age-related decline of cognitive capacity.
In addition, dancing can increase strength and flexibility among seniors. Although it would be more fun in a group setting along with other seniors, patients can also start dancing in private and with the assistance of a caregiver.
Tai chi is a form of Chinese martial arts that combines gentle and graceful movements with meditation. It improves balance and overall makes the body stronger and healthier.
It is also an aerobic exercise that may appeal to seniors because it is low-impact. The movements are also slow and easy to follow.
Moreover, in one study, it increased brain volume as well as improved the memory and cognitive function of older adults who were in their 60s and 70s. The changes were observed after participants of Chinese descent practiced tai chi for 30 minutes three times a week for eight months. In comparison, those who did not do the exercise had a decrease in brain volume typically observed among people within the age group.
Walking is the easiest aerobic exercise to start. It does not require any special equipment and it can be done anywhere, but preferably outdoors where the patient can get a daily dose of sunshine.
In addition, the difficulty can be customized based on the physical capacity of the patient. They can go fast if they feel strong and walk longer distances.
Moreover, previous studies have found that walking slows cognitive decline and reduces the risk of dementia among younger generations. It also quickens reaction time and boosts decision-making skills.
There is strong evidence that physical activity can improve Alzheimer’s. Although more studies need to be done, exercise has already been proven to benefit the mind and, more importantly, strengthen the body. Exercise – whether dancing, tai chi, or walking – will improve the overall health and well-being of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease.