Exercise may lessen fall risk for older adults with Alzheimer's

October 29, 2018

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a brain disease that causes changes that kill brain cells. AD is a type of dementia, which causes memory loss and problems with thinking and making decisions. People with AD and other forms of dementia have difficulties performing the daily activities others might consider routine.

Dementia takes a toll on those who live with it--and it also places a burden on caregivers. Along with problems connected to memory, language, and decision-making, dementia can cause neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, changes in mood, increased irritability, and changes in personality and behavior. People who have AD/dementia also have twice the risk for falls compared to people without dementia. About 60 percent of older adults with dementia fall each year.

Researchers suggest that having neuropsychiatric symptoms might predict whether an older person with AD/dementia is more likely to have a fall. We also know that exercise can reduce the number of falls in older adults with dementia. However, we don't know very much about how neuropsychiatric symptoms may increase the risk of falls, and we know even less about how exercise may reduce the risk of falls for people with dementia and neuropsychiatric symptoms. A research team decided to explore whether exercise could reduce the risk of falling among community-dwelling people with AD who also had neuropsychiatric symptoms.

To learn more, the researchers reviewed a study that investigated the effects of an exercise program for older adults with AD (the FINALEX trial). The study included a range of people living with different stages of AD/dementia and with neuropsychiatric symptoms. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The original FINALEX study examined and compared older adults who had home- or group-based exercise training with people who didn't exercise but who received regular care. The researchers learned that the people who exercised had a lower risk for falls than those who didn't exercise. There was also a higher risk for falls among those who had lower scores on psychological tests and who didn't exercise.

This study revealed that people with AD/dementia and neuropsychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety have a higher risk for falls. Exercise can reduce the risk of falling for older adults with these symptoms. Further studies are needed to confirm these results.
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This summary is from "Relationship of neuropsychiatric symptoms with falls in Alzheimer's disease--Does exercise modify the risk?" It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Hanna-Maria Roitto, MD; Hannu Kautiainen, biostatistician; Hannareeta Öhman, MD; Niina Savikko, RN, PhD; Timo E. Strandberg MD, PhD; Minna Raivio MD, PhD; Marja-Liisa Laakkonen MD, PhD; and Kaisu H. Pitkälä, MD, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

American Geriatrics Society

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