Although the difference between the two groups was small, the researchers say exercise should not be recommended for people with dementia and called for future trials to 'consider the possibility that some types of exercise intervention might worsen cognitive impairment'. And the number of people who declined to participate in the study was high; more men than women participated, even though dementia is more common in women in western Europe.
The analysis of NHS exercise programmes found no improvements in the thinking skills or behaviour of more than 300 people over 70 who took part in aerobic and strength exercises over four months, the BBC reported.
The disappointing results are a setback for researchers, who had hoped an exercise programme might improve people's ability to carry out everyday tasks such as washing and dressing.
The DAPA trial was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and received additional support from the NIHR Local Clinical Research Networks and NIHR Oxford CLAHRC and Biomedical Research Centre.
The average age of the group was 77.
Due to the widespread belief that exercise is beneficial for delaying dementia, a team of United Kingdom researchers conducted a study to assess for themselves the effect of physical activity on the symptoms of dementia.
Participants were assessed at six and 12 months after starting the program. Other (secondary) outcomes included activities of daily living, number of falls, and quality of life.
Getty ImagesDementia The exercise group showed a slightly higher mental decline
Researchers at New York's Union College found older adults with mild cognitive impairment - often a precursor to Alzheimer's disease - showed significant improvement after playing video games that require physical exercise.
The exercise group showed improved physical fitness in the short term, but higher ADAS-cog scores at 12 months (25.2 v 23.8) compared with the usual care group, indicating worse cognitive impairment. However, they added that it was uncertain "whether the effect on cognitive impairment we observed is important".
Around 850,000 people in Britain now suffer from dementia and there are now no treatments to reverse or slow down the condition.
Although several recent studies reported that exercise may improve memory and slow down mental decline, there have also been studies with conflicting results. Enjoyable activity, be it in the gym or elsewhere, is worthwhile in its own right, regardless of whether it slows people's dementia symptoms. Compliance with the exercise program was good.
More than a third of the people invited to take part in the study declined, and 60% of the participants were men, which is unusual in dementia studies because more women than men have the condition.
While the study did not find any benefit for dementia patients, this does not mean exercise is not useful for people without dementia.
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