Dementia sufferers can get as much benefit from exercising their mind and body for two hours a day as they can from completing a standard course of drugs, according to German researchers.
The tell-tale decline in cognitive function associated with the onset of dementia can be arrested by engaging in puzzles and games, say scientists from the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen .
Their study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, involved the use of daily therapy sessions called MAKS, run for two hours each day at nursing homes across Bavaria.
Part of the sessions involved a spiritual element, where for 10 minutes at the start of each session patients sang songs or discussed things such as happiness. To accompany this, patients also engaged in 30 minutes of light physical activity, such as bowling and other lawn sports, followed by group problem solving tasks. Day-to-day activities like preparing food or home improvements were also undertaken for 40 minutes.
The study suggests this combination of mental and physical stimulation was at least as effective at combating the effects of dementia as a typical course of pharmaceuticals, such as cholinesterase inhibitors. It even suggests that the ability of patients to perform everyday tasks after such sessions was twice that of patients who had undergone a drug treatment.
Professor Elmar Graessel said: “While we observed a better result for patients with mild to moderate dementia, the result of MAKS therapy on ADAS (Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale which determines cognitive function) was at least as good as treatment with cholinesterase inhibitors.
“Additionally we found that the effect on the patients’ ability to perform daily living tasks, as measured by the Erlanger Test of Daily Living (E-ADL), was twice as high as achieved by medication.
“This means that MAKS therapy is able to extend the quality of, and participation in, life for people with dementia within a nursing home environment.”