Regular exercise for people with dementia improves balance and functional independence with everyday activities such as bathing and dressing, a new study has found.

The systematic review pooled the data from seven randomised controlled trials of long-term exercise programs which ran for more than three months in the home or community.

To date, previous research has focused on the benefits of exercise programs in residential rather than community settings.

The results provide evidence to support exercise training in the home as a low-cost, non-invasive intervention for people with dementia, which has the potential to reduce hospitalisation and the progression of functional decline in this group, the review said.

To realise these positive benefits, current health service models may need to be restructured to ensure the availability of trained support workers or physiotherapists, as well as extending post-acute care transitional programs beyond three months, the authors said.

“Research in older adults without cognitive impairment suggest community-based exercise programs can run well from established home health services and this might be a potential avenue for future research,” said the review published in the current issue of the Journal of Physiotherapy.

Older people with cognitive impairment are at risk of progressive physical deterioration, including loss of muscle strength, deconditioning, decreased standing balance and impaired walking, all of which can lead to falls and injury.

“The positive results for balance and the ability to complete activities of daily living shown in this review may help reduce the risk of falls in this population,” the researchers concluded.

The data also showed that more demanding activities such as shopping and cleaning were also improved from participation in an longer-term exercise program.

The authors called for further research into the effects of long-term home and community-based exercise programs for older people with cognitive impairment.

Read the systematic review in full here.

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