Physical exercise for older people focusing on people living in residential care facilities and people with dementia

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå universitet

Abstract: The main purposes of this thesis were to evaluate a high-intensity functional weight-bearing exercise pro­gramme, regarding its applicability (attendance, achieved intensity, adverse events) as well as its effect on physical functions and activities of daily living (ADL) among older people living in residential care facilities, with a special focus on people with dementia. Furthermore, a main purpose was to systematically review the applicability and effects of physical exercise on physical functions, cognitive functions, and ADL among people with dementia.A high-intensity functional weight-bearing exercise programme that includes lower-limb strength and balance exercises in standing and walking, was evaluated in a randomised controlled trial among 191 older people, dependent in ADL, living in residential care facilities, and with a Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score of ten or more. One hundred (52.4%) of the participants had dementia. Participants were randomised to an exercise programme or a control activity, consisting of 29 supervised sessions over 3 months, as well as to an intake of a protein-enriched energy supplement or a placebo drink immediately after each session. The effect on physical functions was evaluated using the Berg Balance Scale, usual and maximum gait speed, and one-repetition maximum in a leg press machine measuring lower-limb strength. The effect on ADL was evaluated using the Barthel Index. These outcome measures were followed up at 3 and 6 months by blinded assessors and analysed using the intention-to-treat principle.The evaluation of the applicability of the high-intensity functional weight-bearing exercise programme showed that there was a high rate of attendance, a relatively high achieved intensity in the exercises, and all except two adverse events were assessed as minor or temporary and none led to manifest injury or disease. No statistically significant differences were observed in applicability when comparing participants with dementia and participants without dementia. In addition, the applicability of the programme was not associated with the participants’ cognitive function. Significant long-term effects of the exercise programme were seen regarding functional balance, gait ability and lower-limb strength in comparison with the control activity. The intake of the protein-enriched energy supplement did not increase the effect of the training. Age, sex, depression, dementia disorder, nutritional status, and level of functional balance capacity did not influence the effect on functional balance of the high-intensity functional weight-bearing exercise programme. There were no significant differences between the groups regarding overall ADL performance. Analyses for each item revealed that a significantly smaller proportion of participants in the exercise group had deteriorated regarding indoor mobility at 3 and 6 months. For people with dementia, there was a significant difference in overall ADL performance in favour of the exercise group at 3 months, but not at 6 months.In a systematic review, randomised controlled trials, evaluating the effects of physical exercise among people with dementia, were identified according to pre-defined inclusion criteria. Two reviewers independently extracted predetermined data and assessed methodological quality. Ten studies were included in the review and the majority of the participants were older people with Alzheimer’s disease living in residential care facilities. Four studies reached “moderate” methodological quality and six “low”. The results showed that among older people with Alzheimer’s disease in residential care facilities, combined functional weight-bearing exercise over 12 months at an intended moderate intensity seems applicable for use regarding attendance and adverse events and there is some evidence that the exercise improves walking performance and reduces ADL decline. Furthermore, there is some evidence that walking exercise over 16 weeks performed individually, where the participant walks as far as possible during the session, reduces decline in walking performance, but adverse events need to be evaluated.In conclusion, among older people who are dependent in ADL, living in residential care facilities, and have an MMSE score of 10 or more, a high-intensity functional weight-bearing exercise programme is applicable for use and has positive long-term effects on functional balance, gait ability, and lower-limb strength and seems to reduce ADL decline related to indoor mobility. An intake of a protein-enriched energy supplement immediately after the exercise does not appear to increase the effect of the training. In people with dementia, the exercise programme may prevent decline in overall ADL performance, but continuous training may be needed to maintain that effect. The positive results regarding applicability and effects of combined functional weight-bearing exercise among people with dementia is confirmed when the scientific literature is systematically reviewed. It seems to be important that exercise interventions among people with dementia last for at least a few months and that the exercises are task-specific and intended to challenge the individual’s physical capacity. Whether physical exercise can improve cognitive functions among people with dementia remains unclear. There is a need for more exercise studies of high methodological quality among people with dementia disorders.