April 29, 2021 3 min read

What is exergaming and why could it save your brain from dementia?

Diet and sleep are the most recognized deterrents against the development of dementia pathology. But now a completely different activity, that many write off as immature and juvenile, may just help fend off dementia for years to come.

According to a new paper published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, exergamingphysical activity that includes cognitive conditioning exercises, can dramatically improve symptoms associated with dementia among older populations. This is especially true when combined with relevant lifestyle changes.

“It is currently unknown whether exergaming is efficacious in people with major neurocognitive disorder (MNCD) residing in long-term care facilities. This pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) explored the efficacy of a stepping exergame program on gait speed, balance, mobility, reaction time, cognitive and neuropsychiatric outcomes, quality of life, and daily life functioning in people with MNCD residing in long-term care facilities,” the authors wrote in the new paper.

“The exergame device consisted of a pressure-sensitive step training platform on which participants performed stepping movements to play the games. The device automatically adapted the training level to the participants’ capabilities.”

Before the start of the analysis, the study sample, which was comprised of 45 elderly subjects ( aged 70–91) who exhibited signs of progressive dementia, was divided into two groups according to their baseline functioning.

In order to determine the efficacy of exergaming with respect to dementia symptomatology, the authors assigned participants randomly to 8 weeks, three times weekly, 15 min of exergaming versus watching preferred music videos.

Consistently, those who performed exergames significantly improved their walking speed, overall cognitive function, mobility, balance, and step reaction time in addition to decreasing symptoms associated with clinical depression.

These results are important for reasons outside the direction of the aim of the study. For instance, populations belonging to the age range analyzed in the paper often fall victim to falls that leave them critically injured.

The authors were able to make a compelling case that exergaming can positively impact this statistic.

Participants belonging to the group that watched music videos on the other hand continued to evidence progressive dementia.

“The findings of this pilot RCT suggest that an individually adapted exergame training improves lower extremity functioning, cognitive functioning and step reaction time and symptoms of depression in inpatients with MNCD residing in long-term care facilities,” the authors continued.

“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.”

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia-related illness, however, the findings indexed above meaningfully add to the growing list of effective preventive measures.

Adhering to a diet that limits processed meat intake, receiving adequate sleep and at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise every week, and engaging in activities that stimulate the mind appear to greatly reduce one’s risk of experiencing aggressive dementia pathology.

“Future research using an exergame approach is warranted and should explore the underlying mechanisms of the observed benefits. For example, it is known that exercise leads to elevated levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which supports the growth and maintenance of neurons,” the authors concluded.

“Moreover, there is increasing evidence that the combination of physical and cognitive activity may have synergistic effects. While physical exercise facilitates plasticity, cognitive activity guides the plastic changes. Future research could, for example, compare the effects and dose-response of exergaming versus aerobic and/or strength training and/or balance training on physical, mental, and cognitive outcomes and underlying mechanisms in people with mild neurocognitive disorder.”


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