What evidence is available to confirm the effectiveness of using physical activity as an intervention to maintain or slow cognitive decline in individuals with existing cognitive impairments (i.e. Dementia, MCI, and Alzheimer’s). What is the effectiveness of implementing physical activities in slowing cognitive decline within these individuals within occupational therapy treatment?
Clinical Bottom Line
There is mixed evidence recognizing physical activity (also referred to as exercise or aerobic activity within this review) as an effective treatment option for older adults with existing cognitive impairment. Several studies have reported on the positive effect of physical activity improving rates of oxygen consumption post test and increase in overall cardiorespiratory fitness levels for older adults. With this, the results of this study could affect occupational therapy practice in that they emphasize the use of aerobic training for older adults to maintain aerobic capacity even if not yet confirmed to maintain or improve cognitive performance.
There is also some evidence that physical activity may have an impact on certain areas of cognition such as memory and reaction time.
Physical activity interventions, if found to be effective for aging populations could be considered a reasonable alternative therapy in occupational therapy practice. Most interventions described within the included studies require limited resources to complete and could be done in the clinic. There is evidence that even small increases in aerobic training are required to see some positive effects on performance (Kramer et al., 1999). This may prove to be significant for older adults where opportunity and availability for aerobic exercise may be limited.
Wixson, Erin, "Physical Activity for Elderly Persons with Cognitive Impairment" (2008). Mental Health CATs. 8.