Alzheimer's disease affects physical functioning as well as a person's mental ability. Patients show decreased mobility and an increased risk of falls and fractures. Due to decreased mobility, the patient is likely to experience decreased muscle mass leading to further loss of independence.
Exercise can improve general health and may alter the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Exercise programs that focus on improving endurance, strength, balance and flexibility may help increase the patient's mobility and independence despite the progression of the disease.
Exercise targets dementia by improving the health of neurons. Better neuron health means better communication within the brain and improvement of symptoms such as confusion, memory and comprehension. One reason that exercise may benefit those with Alzheimer's disease is stated in the "amyloid hypothesis". The "amyloid hypothesis" says that physical activity may decrease beta-amyloid levels (as recently found in mice), leading to fewer amyloid plaques and less disruption to neurons.
It is said that physically active people have greater 'cognitive reserve'. For the same deterioration in brain structure, physically active people show superior cognitive function . Similarly, education, occupation, and intelligence show protective effects on cognitive function. Exercise is associated with a myriad of benefits including improved cognitive functioning, mobility, independence, depression , and behavioural problems. If they are able, it is a good idea to encourage the person that you care for to become involved in an exercise program.
Published research related to this topic:
Voluntary exercise decreases amyloid load in a transgenic model of Alzheimer's disease.
Adlard P, Perreau V, Pop V & Cotman C. J Neuroscience 2005: 25(17): 4217-4221
Diet, exercise and Alzheimer's disease: What is good for the heart is good for the brain.
Lalino C. Neurology Today 2003: 3(12): 27-31.
Can physical activity improve the mental health of older adults?
Lautenschlager N, Almeida O, Flicker L, Janca A. Ann Gen Hop Psychiatry. 2004: 3: 12.
Cognitive reserve and lifestyle.
Scarmeas N, Stern Y. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2003 25(5): 625-33.
Exercise plus behavioural management in patients with Alzheimer disease: A randomized control trial.
Teri L, ibbons, L, MicCurry S et al. JAMA 2003: 290(15): 2015-2022. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=14559955&query_hl=20
Physical activity, including walking, and cognitive function in older women.
Weuve J, Kang JH, Manson JE et al. JAMA 2004: 292(12): 1454-1461.