Acute cognitive effects of physical activity for people who have dementia

Background: Physical activity has the potential to improve cognition for those with dementia, as demonstrated by randomised controlled trials lasting at least 6 weeks. Research is yet to explore the acute cognitive effects of physical activity for people with dementia. Acute resistance physical activity with healthy late-middle aged individuals has been shown to facilitate general cognition, as well as benefit executive function specifically. This study therefore aimed to establish if people with dementia experience cognitive benefits from acute resistance physical activity over and above a social control.
Methods: A cross-sectional study design was applied to compare resistance physical activity to bingo between 10 participants with dementia to 15 age-matched controls. Following University ethical approval, participants were recruited from Alzheimer’s or dementia activity and support groups held in the community. Acute cognitive effects were assessed using the Mini Mental Status Examination (MMSE), Hopkins Verbal Learning Test (HVLT), Verbal Fluency (VF) and The Cognitive Computerised Test Battery for Individual’s with Intellectual Disabilities (CCIID); before and after a short bout of seated resistance band physical activity or a social control, bingo. The participants then completed the opposing activity 6 weeks later, and then cognitive assessments alone a further 6 weeks later. This allowed to analyse cognitive effects immediately and 6 weeks after. Statistical analysis included Mann Whitney U test, Chi-square test and Mix-measured ANOVA to compare scores across time-points.
Results: Participants had a mean age of 76 years, 40% were male and 60% were female. For participants with dementia immediately after the resistance band activity improvements can be observed on the MMSE, VF, HVLT, Series, Jigsaw and Total CCIID. Only the MMSE, Series and Total CCIID still showed improvements at 6-week follow-up. Immediately following the psychosocial intervention, participants with dementia only showed improvements on the HVLT, which were not sustained after 6-weeks. For age-matched controls, bingo appeared to be more beneficial than physical activity.
Conclusion: These results indicate that there are differential acute effects of activity depending upon pre-existing cognitive ability. Specific cognitive benefits may be available for people with dementia following resistance band physical activity. This pilot study shows promising indications for physical activity as a therapy for dementia, however results should be interpreted with caution due to the small sample size of this study.