Cochrane Summaries

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Exercise programs for people with dementia

Forbes D, Thiessen EJ, Blake CM, Forbes SC, Forbes S
Published Online: 
4 December 2013


In future, as the population ages, the number of people in our communities suffering with dementia will rise dramatically. This will not only affect the quality of life of people with dementia but also increase the burden on family caregivers, community care, and residential care services. Exercise one lifestyle factor identified as a potential means of reducing or delaying progression of the symptoms of dementia.

Study Charateristics

This review evaluated the results of 16 trials (search date August 2012), including 937 participants, that tested whether exercise programs could improve cognition, activities of daily living, behaviour, depression, and mortality in older people with dementia or benefit their family caregivers.

Key Findings

There was promising evidence that exercise programs can significantly improve the cognitive functioning of people with dementia and their ability to perform daily activities, but there was a lot of variation between trial results that we were not able to explain. The studies showed no significant effect of exercise on mood. There was little or no evidence regarding the other outcomes listed above. Further well-designed research is required to examine these outcomes and to determine the best type of exercise program for people with different types and severity of dementia.

Quality of Evidence

Twelve additional trials were included in this updated review compared with the four included in the previous version of the review. As a result the number of participants increased to 937 at baseline and 798 (85.2%) completed the trials, compared with 280 at baseline and 208 (74%) completing the trials in our previous review. These are encouraging results. The number and quality of included trials were sufficient to address the first three objectives relating to the effect of exercise on cognition, ADLs, and depression. However, only one trial was included in the analyses of the effect of exercise on challenging behaviours and caregiver burden, and no analyses were completed for the following outcomes: mortality in people with dementia, caregiver quality of life, caregiver mortality, and use of healthcare services.

The authors have no conflicts of interest.