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Fall risk in those with dementia reduced by high-intensity rehab: study

January 15, 2014
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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People with dementia who underwent a high-intensity, tailored exercise program experienced substantial improvements in basic motor functions—lower-extremity muscle strength, transfer ability and postural balance—linked to fall risk in those with dementia, according to a new study by researchers in the University of Arizona (UA) Department of Surgery.

The higher-intensity exercise program was implemented in a hospital rehabilitation unit, and results were compared with those of a typical rehabilitation program. Members of the study group participating in the new training program saw an increase in lower-extremity muscle strength that was four times higher than the improvement seen in those receiving traditional rehabilitation care, says Michael Schwenk, PhD, a UA research associate and lead author of the paper.

“Rehabilitation of basic functional tasks, such as the ability to rise from a chair or walking, is of utmost importance to reduce fall risk, prevent loss of independence and increase mobility-related quality of life in patients with dementia,” he says. The disease process as well as reduced physical activity can result in a decline in motor skills that increases the risk of falls for those with dementia, he adds, noting that the fall risk for those with dementia is three times higher than it is for those without cognitive impairment.

The study’s results, Schwenk says, may be helpful to therapists and geriatricians looking for ways to adjust their rehabilitation programs to make them more effective for those with dementia. “Results indicate that medium to high training adherence can be achieved in the majority of geriatric inpatients despite cognitive impairment and acute functional impairment,” he adds.

The study, available online now, is set to be published in the February issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

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