Key dementia treatment doesn’t work, startling study finds

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A key treatment doctors prescribe to slow the progress of dementia does not work, a staggering new Oxford University study has found.

Exercise, once considered a pivotal prescription for slowing the development of dementia, is useless once the disease sets in.

“The findings in the study are very disconcerting – it goes against something which we assumed was true,” said Royal Melbourne Hospital geriatrician Dr Kate Gregorevic.

“I have always recommended exercise. This makes me question my practice.”

However, regular exercise throughout life does seem to cut your risk of developing dementia in the first place.

With more than one-third of Australians aged between 70 and 90 expected to experience cognitive decline, and 30 per cent of those developing dementia and Alzheimer’s, doctors are at a loss for what to prescribe to help mitigate the disease.

While there are myriad studies and lab tests for drugs, treatments and experimental ministrations, there are currently no effective remedies for dementia.

High-intensity exercise was one that seemed to help.

But the results of a large trial published in the British Medical Journal last month revealed that exercise does not help at all once the symptoms are apparent.

The study analysed 329 people with mild to moderate dementia who did weight training and high-intensity exercise twice a week over a four-month period.

Brain tests after this regimen not only revealed no positive effect, but showed that symptoms had actually worsened.

However, not all experts are convinced of the accuracy of the study, with some pointing out potential flaws in the methodology.

But one of Australia’s top dementia experts, Professor Kaarin Anstey, says the research should be taken seriously.

“It’s very disappointing, actually, that they did not find an effect. It needs to be replicated, of course. But it does raise questions about when we should be intervening. It’s possible there is a threshold after which there won’t be benefit,” said Prof. Anstey.

“We know physical activity is associated with decreased risk of getting dementia, that’s well established in other studies. The prevention message has not changed. This study is about how late in the disease it’s going to have a benefit.”

Read more at SMH.

Do you exercise regularly in the hope that it will prevent dementia? Do you know of any examples where the progress of dementia has been slowed by exercise or another treatment?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 11
  1. 0

    The real treatment is to look back at the Elders of the many Aboriginal clans around Australia. Many lived to 90 years of age in the less harsh conditions of the non-arid zones around the country and they not only retained their mental functions but were Google-like in their encyclopedic spread of knowledge. Not only did they know what was needed to survive from their lifetime of experience but also what was needed to ensure long term survival of the clan relying on many generations of information.

    I have spoken to and been made aware of informants who recount the details of animals used as food, their habits and habitats, their wild medicines and the ideal hunting times. This was even though the animals are considered locally extinct by white researchers (SA Museum staff) for over 150 years. Another Aboriginal contact, an Elder of around 70 years and with whom I spent some days fishing and foraging told me of the day his (great) grandfather speared a Dutch Captain in the chest, killing him instantly and driving away the invaders to his Country on that occasion, at least.

    It was the traditional foods available which protected brains and bodies against the diseases of nutrition and of which dementia and other mental conditions are a part. We lack antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, anti-proliferatives, anti-allergens, anti-carcinogens, anti-mutagens, enzymes and enzyme regulators along with good sugars and key minerals. All of these are still found in wild foods and should be part of our modern diets if we are to avoid hidden hunger and micronutrient deficiencies.

    • 0

      Also, non-literate cultures tend to have more highly developed memories, because writing is a mnemonic device which helps to make literate cultures mnemonically lazy.

  2. 0

    Whoopy do. The next highly advertised ‘cure’ which does not work. How much money was made out of the treatment before that became apparent? Next…………
    This is a common thread: cure advertised widely on the media. Desperadoes rush for the cure. Financial windfall for the company making the drug. And finally it does not work.
    I see the schemes advertised many times a year on our top News stations. What does that tell you.

    • 0

      Mick, the alleged cure was not a drug but exercise. Who made money out of that treatment? Perhaps a few gyms and fitness trainers got a few more clients, but that’s good: exercise might not help cure dementia, but it’s probably beneficial for general health.

  3. 0

    As a victim of the disease through my father’s experience I realised these outcomes a long time ago. Nor exercise, nor diet, nor puzzling, nor drugs, nor herbs, nor fruits, etc. etc. etc. either stops or slows it down. And what I realised then too, is that what is crucially and desperately needed is training for the best management of patients at home, hospital or a care facility. Not many of us understand that there is no point in arguing, explaining, repeating yourself with ‘I already told you that dad’, ‘cant you remember what we talked in the morning?’, ‘you just had your medicine don’t need it again’ etc. etc. etc. The more we understand this pointless behaviour, the better for all parties involved.

  4. 0

    This is sad, first dementia sufferers are given a glimmer of hope and then it is taken away. Maybe there is a shred of truth in firstly the claim and maybe the denial doen’t actually exclude all of the claim. I hope that a cure is found and that the work so far can continue in a positive manner.

  5. 0

    The study did not look at what the rest of the world is looking at. That is, creative activities that involve exercising. Creativity is one of the remaining talents people with dementia retain so utilising that ability through creative dancing creates new neural pathways. There is a very successful program with proven results called come dance with me and we have run it at our hall for three years and seen the results ourselves!

  6. 0

    This result is not the slightest bit surprising. We have known for years that nothing slows the progress of dementia, especially if it is genetic.
    Let’s take another view, albeit cynical. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a terminal illness. We all now live too long in an overpopulated world. We are meant to senesce and die to make room for the next generation. It’s a painful reality that the way we die can be through much suffering due to being kept alive by over intrusive medical interventions.

    • 0

      Agree with you Jennie. We are currently visiting my mother-in-jaw every day in her nursing home, it is pitiful to see her in her current state. Nevertheless every day she is given a cocktail of medications to keep her vital bodily functions operating. No way do we ever want to be in her situation,
      In the expectation that euthanasia on request will never be legalised in our lifetimes our ACDs requires that if we are diagnosed with any form of dementia or cognitive decline that those life extending medications are to be discontinued and let nature take its course. No heart tablets, thyroid tablets, blood pressure medications, cholesterol reducers, liver pills: nothing, not even anti-biotics if we get pneumonia or a similar disease. All we permit is palliative care only. We have explained this to our children and hopefully they will understand when the time comes.

    • 0

      Well said Eddy. So few people have ACDs. However, please write to go with this document a personal statement of what you enjoy in life and would not want to miss. Eg, “I enjoy food and eating with friends and family. If I could no longer do this I would not want my life to be prolonged.” You might say you enjoy walking, gardening, painting, reading etc.

  7. 0

    The saddest thing here is how few of the commentators have carefully read the article and noted the limitations of the reported research.



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