New research suggests that even a simple exercise routine may help older Americans with mild memory impairment.
Doctors have long recommended physical activity to maintain healthy brain health. But the government-funded study, the longest-running trial to see if exercise makes any difference once memory begins to decline, added isolation to the list of risks to brain health for participants during the pandemic. A study conducted in
Researchers recruited about 300 sedentary older adults who had difficulty spotting memory changes called mild cognitive impairment or MCI. Half were assigned aerobic exercise and the rest were assigned stretching and balance movements that only moderately increased heart rate.
Another important factor: Both groups of participants received attention from trainers they had worked with at YMCAs across the country.
Cognitive tests a year later showed no overall deterioration in either group, said lead investigator Laura Baker, a neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine. But she said she didn’t see any shrinkage associated with worsening memory impairment.
By comparison, in another long-term study of brain health, similar patients with MCI experienced significant cognitive decline over the course of a year despite not exercising.
These early findings were astonishing, and the National Institute on Aging warned that tracking non-exercise people in the same study would yield better evidence.
But the results suggest “this is possible for everyone,” and not just for older people who are healthy enough to sweat, said Baker, who presented the data at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Tuesday. “Exercise should be part of a prevention strategy” for at-risk older adults.
Maria Carrillo, chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, said previous research has shown that regular physical activity of any kind may reduce harmful inflammation and increase blood flow to the brain. I discovered that
But this new study is of particular interest. Because the pandemic hits halfway, leaving already vulnerable older people socially isolated. This has long been known to increase the risk of memory impairment in people.
It’s a frustrating time for dementia research. Doctors are hesitant to prescribe an expensive new drug called Aduhelm, which was thought to be the first drug to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s not yet clear if it will really help patients. last month reported another drug that works similarly by targeting the amyloid plaques that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, but failed in a critical study.
While amyloid clearly plays a role, effective treatment or prevention will likely require a combination of customized strategies, so there are many other ways drug companies can lead to dementia. Targeting factors is becoming increasingly important.
One example of a new approach: In dementia, the brain may have trouble processing blood sugar and fat for the energy it needs, John Didsbury of T3D Therapeutics told the Alzheimer’s conference. We are testing a pill aimed at revitalizing that metabolism, and we expect results in the next year.
On the one hand, there is a growing urgency to determine whether the measures people can take today, such as exercise, offer at least some degree of protection.
How much and what type of exercise? In Baker’s study, seniors were supposed to exercise for 30 to 45 minutes four times a week. This is a big question for sedentary people, but MCI’s effects on the brain make it more difficult for people to plan and sustain new activities, says Baker.
Hence the social stimulation — she believes each participant completed more than 100 hours of exercise. Participants were to exercise without formal support for an additional 6 months, but data are yet to be analyzed.
“We wouldn’t have done this exercise on our own,” said Doug Maxwell, a retired agricultural researcher from Verona, Wisconsin, who participated in the study with his wife.
Both were 81 years old and both were assigned to a stretching class. They felt so much better afterward that when the study was over, they bought electric bikes in hopes of more activity.
Next steps: Baker, who is leading an even larger study in older adults, suggests adding exercise to other harmless steps such as heart-healthy diets, brain games, and social stimulation. , to see if it might reduce the risk of dementia.