Older Adults With Dementia May Be Able to Slow, Even Reverse, Memory Loss
Do you or someone you know have trouble remembering where you left your keys? Do you experience other memory issues? Memory loss is common among older adults and is a concern for those who care for them. In late adulthood, the hippocampus (the area of the brain related to memory) shrinks. This leads to memory loss and an increased risk of developing dementia.
But all is not lost. Research has shown that you may be able to improve memory. Or, slow a memory decline through combined aerobic exercise and strength training.
In 1 study, patients with dementia were divided into 3 groups. The control group used social activity only. A second group did only aerobic activities. The third group did strength training combined with aerobic activity. Those who did both strength and aerobic exercises slowed or reversed their memory loss.
In another study, 120 older adults were assigned to 1 of 2 groups. A control group only did stretching exercises. The second group did aerobic exercise. MRIs were done 6 months after they began the study. MRIs showed a 2% increase in the size of the front of the hippocampus. Memory also improved for the group doing aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Age-related volume loss was reversed by a factor of 1 to 2 years in the aerobic exercise group.
Some older adults may feel it’s too late to start exercising because they have not been active. But it’s never too late to start moving and exercising, as long as you have medical approval to exercise. If you have an injury, other health concerns, or don't know how to begin exercising, a physical therapist (PT) can help you get started safely.
As movement experts, physical therapists design exercise programs for older adults and those with dementia. PTs help people stay active and independent for as long as possible.
Find a PT near you.
Written by Joseph Libera, PT, DPT, MPH, MBA, board-certified clinical specialist in geriatric physical therapy, certified exercise expert for aging adults, and certified strength and conditioning specialist.
Find additional resources and learn more about physical therapy for older adults at our health center for older adults.