Story at a glance

  • A new study gets people with dementia symptoms moving using a game based on stepping on a floor panel.
  • Participants showed improvement in step reaction and gait speed, as well as depression symptoms.
  • The researchers hope that this kind of game may help slow down the progression of dementia.

In a new study published in Alzheimer's Research & Therapy, researchers created an exercise game that stimulates people physically and mentally. The goal of the game, called exergame, was to get people with signs of dementia moving in a way that also engaged their minds.

Dementia is a condition in which brain function gradually declines. At the same time, motor function also deteriorates. “It has been suspected for some time that physical and cognitive training also have a positive effect on dementia,” explains Eling de Bruin of ETH Zurich, who led the study, according to a press release. "However, in the past it has been difficult to motivate dementia patients to undertake physical activity over extended periods."

For this study, de Bruin and the team recruited 45 participants with symptoms of dementia at two Belgian care homes. The team developed a training program for participants that would get them moving as well as use their brains to see if that would be effective in improving their balance, mobility, cognitive outcomes, daily life functioning and other effects.

"We wanted to devise a customised training programme that would improve the lives of older people," says Eva van het Reve, a former ETH doctoral student who founded the ETH spin-off Dividat in 2013 together with her PhD supervisor de Bruin, in the press release.

Half of the group trained on the exergame for 15 minutes, three times per week, for eight weeks. The other half listened to and watched music videos of their choice for the same amount of time. The game involved a screen that indicated where the participants should move on a floor panel with four sections. The panel can measure the steps, weight displacement and balance.

 


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The exergame group showed improved gait speed and other measurements of physical movement, cognitive function and depression. There were no differences between the groups for Neuropsychiatric Inventory, Dementia Quality of Life (DQoL) and Katz Activities of Daily Living (ADL). However, when the researchers just looked within the group that did go through the exergame training, they found that there were large effects on DQoL and ADL within participants in that group. So while there may not have been significant differences between the groups for these measurements, individual people may have benefited in those areas because of the training.

Nonetheless, this pilot study is promising. It suggests that individualized exergame training could have a positive effect on the physical and mental well-being of people with dementia. The study’s results suggest that exergaming may improve lower extremity and cognitive functioning, step reaction time and symptoms of depression.

De Bruin said in the press release, "For the first time, there's hope that through targeted play we will be able not only to delay but also weaken the symptoms of dementia.”


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Published on Apr 13, 2021