Written by Elizabeth Renter, Natural Society, July 5, 2014
In case you didn’t know, mild cognitive decline such as memory loss can be prevented, and it doesn’t take another pharmaceutical med. All it requires is a little creative exercise that mimics daily tasks, and older adults can enjoy better mental health – at least according to a new study from researchers led by Lawla Law, an occupational therapist at the James Cook University’s school of public health in Queensland, Australia.
The researchers tested 83 older participants from a neighborhood in Hong Kong. The participants were between the ages of 60 and 88 years old and met the criteria for mild cognitive impairment. They then participated in FcTsim, or Functional Task Simulation. For instance, a senior might stack and unstuck cups or bowls, or place items around the room where they would normally belong.
“Daily functional tasks are innately cognitive-demanding and involve components of stretching, strengthening, balance and endurance as seen in traditional exercise programs,” the authors write in Age and Ageing.
“Although the functional tasks involved in the FcTSim program are simple placing/collection tasks that most people may do in their everyday life, complex cognitive interplays are required to enable us to see, reach and place the objects to the target position,” they write.
Approximately half, 43 adults, were placed in the functional-task practicing group for 10 weeks, and the other participants were used as a control group. Sessions included some stretching, 30-minutes of exercise, and a cool down period. The control group practiced only cognitive training such as paper-and pencil homework assignments and computer-based cognitive tasks.
The FcTSim group showed significant improvement at the 12-week point in general cognitive function, memory, executive function, functional status and everyday problem solving skills. The comparison group also improved, but not as much as the group who also completed exercise.
“I think there are several things about the study that prevent us from drawing broad conclusions, including that it was a relatively short period of time and a small group,” Tan said. “It was done in a Chinese population so these are some of the issues that may make it challenging to form conclusions but certainly it’s encouraging.”
There are other studies which have shown that using the mind and body helps to keep them working properly – the old axiom, use or lose it is no less apropos here. Dr. Zaldy Tan, who was not involved in the study, but who utilizes it with seniors at the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program at the University of California, Los Angeles said, “I think it’s an interesting study and it adds to the evidence that physical as well as cognitive abilities could help with increasing cognitive function in older adults.”
This is especially important considering those with mild cognitive impairment are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. With both physical exercise and cognitive exercise, the brain can actually create new cells, that are healthy, and which support better mental functioning, even reversing mental decline.
The researchers who conducted the study concur that testing a wider expanse of aging populations could help memory care centers and families help their aging parents cope with dementia.