Exercise Video Games Found to Improve Cognitive and Motor Abilities in Dementia Patients

Exercise video games can be a fun way to get moving, get your heart pumping, and maybe drop a few pounds in the process. Can these games be good for your mind, too? A new study out of Belgium says they can.

An international team of researchers looked into how cognitive motor training via video game impacted dementia patients’ health over a two-month period. They found that it improved cognitive function, mobility, and symptoms of depression. The results were published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.

PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK/WAVEBREAKMEDIAMICRO

KU Leuven Professor Davy Vancampfort, who took part in the research, says, “Previous research has already shown that exercise can delay symptoms of dementia. However, it can be difficult to motivate people to exercise, especially on an ongoing basis. For the first time, this study suggests that targeted play can not only delay, but also reduce symptoms of dementia.”

The team, which included members from KU Leuven and ETH Zurich, had nursing home residents with severe dementia symptoms play an exergame, a video game which is used to exercise. Players watch dots on a screen to see which spot on a floor panel that they should tap. When players respond quickly and accurately, the game gets progressively harder.

The 45 participants in the study were split into two groups: one that played the exergame individually for 15 minutes three times a week over a period of eight weeks and one that watched videos of their own choice individually. The video game group had a program designed specifically for their functionality, cognition, and health status. Once the eight weeks were over, the researchers compared the two groups’ physical, cognitive, and mental capacity to what they’d been at the start of the study.

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ETH ZURICH

The team found that those in the exergame group had improved cognitive skills like attention, concentration, memory and orientation. Their depression symptoms also significantly decreased. An important additional change was better reaction time.

Nathalie Swinnen from the Research Group for Adapted Physical Activity and Psychomotor Rehabilitation at KU Leuven says, “This is encouraging, since the speed with which older people respond to impulses is critical to be able to avoid fall.”

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The music video group, meanwhile, had worsened over the eight-week period, which did not surprise the study team.

ETH Zurich researcher Eling de Bruin says, “These highly encouraging results are in line with the expectation that dementia patients are more likely to deteriorate without training,”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ETH ZURICH

The study authors say future, broader research is warranted to see why exactly the exergame group saw the benefits that they did, which could possibly be due to the fact that exercise in general has been found to benefit brain health in several ways.

The study reads, “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.”

Exercise has been found to benefit dementia patients in other ways, as well, including improving sleep, providing more opportunities for socializing to avoid isolation, and improving mood.

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