A Lancet dementia study conducted by Norweigan researchers has found that persistently poor cardiorespiratory physical fitness is a risk factor for dementia and death due to dementia.
While other studies have found a link between physical fitness and decreased dementia risk, the Lancet dementia study published in Nov. 2019, is the first study to measure participants’ physical fitness twice over a ten-year span. What researchers found was that individuals with persistently high cardiorespiratory physical fitness or, significantly, those who went from unfit to fit over the span of a decade, experienced positive dementia-related outcomes compared to their persistently unfit peers. These outcomes included:
- A 40-50% reduced risk of dementia
- A 30-40% reduced risk of dementia-related death
- A 2-year delay in onset of dementia
- A 2-3 years life extension
Participants had an average age of 60 upon entering the Lancet dementia study, demonstrating that enhanced physical fitness can improve dementia outcomes even in later years. According to the authors, “our data suggest that the association between estimated cardiorespiratory fitness and later risk of dementia is modifiable, also after midlife.”
According to the lead author of the Lancet dementia study Atefe Tari, a doctoral student with the Cardiac Exercise Research Group at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, because there’s no effective drug for dementia it’s essential to focus on prevention. Exercise, she said, appears to be one of the best “medicines.”
Researchers estimated participants’ physical fitness levels in the 1980s and then began tracking for dementia in 1995, adjusting for other factors that could influence dementia risk such as blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels, and family history of stroke.
It’s estimated that 50 million people worldwide live with some form of dementia, an umbrella term for a variety of medical conditions involving the generally progressive decline of memory, reasoning, communication and relationship skills, motor functioning and other capacities related to the activities of daily life. Approximately, 60 to 70% of dementia diagnoses in the United States are for Alzheimer’s disease, which is the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death. Other diagnoses linked to dementia include diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Lewy body and Parkinson’s as well as frontotemporal, vascular, HIV and traumatic brain injury dementias. The Lancet dementia study and those like it are therefore imperative for discovering cures and prevention methods to this varied and severe condition.
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