In people with dementia, exercise may significantly improve cognitive functioning and the ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), according to an updated research review from the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Researchers are motivated to find ways to treat or to slow dementia’s progress, since rates of the disease are expected to rise exponentially along with the aging population.

Twelve new studies were included in the current review, bringing the number of participants who completed the trials to 798 (compared with just 208 in the original four studies reviewed in 2008). While research findings are positive for improvement in cognitive function and performance of ADLs, no improvement was found for those with mood issues, such as depression.

“Clearly, further research is needed to be able to develop best practice guidelines to enable healthcare providers to advise people with dementia living at home or in institutions,” said lead study author Dorothy Forbes, associate professor of nursing at the University of Alberta in a Wiley news release. “We also need to understand what level and intensity of exercise is beneficial for someone with dementia.”

The review of studies appeared in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2013; 12, Article CD006489).

PHOTOGRAPHY: Jeff Marchant