Physical and cognitive play helps people with dementia, study finds

Cognitive motor training could help to alleviate and delay the onset of dementia symptoms, according to new research.

It's estimated there are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, the majority of whom are over the age of 65. People who are severely affected by the most common symptoms of dementia - such as problems with memory, concentration, planning and organising - often require dedicated 24-hour care.

While there is currently no cure for dementia, there are treatments that can help to manage the symptoms.

A recent clinical study in Belgium looked into whether a combination of physical and cognitive training could deliver positive results for people affected by dementia. It used a fitness game called Exergame, which was developed by Dividat, a company founded by two former doctoral students and their PhD supervisor at ETH Zurich, a public research university.

Eva van het Reve, one of the former students, said the aim behind Dividat was to create a customised training programme that would improve the lives of older people. The firm came up with the Senso platform, which uses a floor panel with four fields to measure steps, weight displacement and balance, as well as a screen to display the game software.

Users have to follow indications on the screen and complete a series of movements with their feet, a process that can simultaneously improve both physical and cognitive function.

In the recent study, an international team of researchers recruited 45 participants with an average age of 85 years, all of whom had severe dementia symptoms. They were divided into two groups, one of which used the Dividat Senso three times a week for eight weeks, while the other watched and listened to music videos of their choice.

The physical, cognitive and mental capacity of all 45 people taking part was measured at the start and end of the study. The results showed those using the machine experienced significant improvements in areas such as attention, concentration, memory and orientation. This group also saw positive effects in aspects of their physical capability, such as reaction times.

The control group, in contrast, experienced worsening symptoms over the course of the eight-week study, which was described as a "particularly striking" finding.

Eling de Bruin of ETH Zurich, one of the founders of Dividat, said: "For the first time, there's hope that through targeted play we will be able not only to delay but also weaken the symptoms of dementia."

Other treatments that could help to alleviate symptoms of dementia include medication, person-centred care (which is based around an individual's interests, abilities and personality) and talking therapies.