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Vol. 35 No. 4, October 1998
Pages 411-419

Exercise and activity level in Alzheimer's disease: A potential treatment focus

Linda Teri, PhD; Susan M. McCurry, PhD; David M. Buchner, MD; Rebecca G. Logsdon, PhD; Andrea Z. LaCroix, PhD; Walter A. Kukull, PhD; William E. Barlow, PhD; Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195; Northwest Center for Outcomes Research in Older Adults, Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, WA 98108; Department of Prevention and Community Services, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Seattle, WA 98101; Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington, and Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195

Abstract — This article provides information on the baseline health and physical function of 30 individuals with Alzheimer's disease (AD); describes a community-based program designed to increase balance, flexibility, strength, and endurance in these persons by the training of caregivers to facilitate and supervise exercise activity; and documents the adherence of these subjects and their caregivers to this intervention. Subjects were recruited from an ongoing, community-based Alzheimer's Disease Patient Registry, and met NINCDS-ADRDA criteria for probable or possible AD. Caregivers were family members living with the demented individuals in the community. Physical performance was measured using walking speed, functional reach, and standing balance. Health status was measured with the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form, the Sickness Impact Profile, and caregiver reports of subject's restricted activity days, bed disability days, falls, and exercise participation. Baseline data indicated that persons with AD were impaired on measures of physical performance and function, compared to published data on nondemented older adults. During a 12-wk treatment period, caregivers were taught to guide their demented charges in an individualized program of endurance activities (primarily walking), strength training, and balance and flexibility exercises. Adherence data indicated that 100% of the subjects were compliant with some exercise recommendations, and one-third completed all assigned exercises during the training period. Caregivers were able to learn and direct subjects during scheduled exercise activities. These findings indicate that the integration of exercise training into the care of persons with AD is both needed and feasible. Further research is currently underway to determine the efficacy of this approach for reducing additional physical disability in these individuals.

Key words: Alzheimer's disease, caregivers, exercise, physical function.

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