Cognition, Aging, and Exercise. Lifespan University of West GA Kimberly Sheppard. Problem: Cognition Decline in Older Adults.
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University of West GA
In 2010 the Alzheimer's Association stated that the total estimated cost per year for the care of patients with dementia reached $172 billion (Weinstein & Erickson, 2011). At the age of Fifty-five and above, the general population can expect to lose 1 to 2 percent annually in their memory area, or the hippocampal (Weinstein & Erickson, 2011). This amazing amount will only increase as the baby boomers age group continue to age. The question is, what can be done to help as there is no guaranteed treatment at this time?
Several studies have been done to see the longitudinal effects of no exercise versus exercise. This is a challenging study to begin with because of the validity of determining whether it is truly the exercise that has made the difference or a combination of other strategies. One study suggests that in fact exercise does contribute to increased cognitive performance in older adults. The study looked at 32 community dwelling Caucasian adults (Anderson-Hanley, Nimon, & Westen, 2010). The group was tested before and then randomly split into a control group that did not exercise and their group of individuals that did exercise. The graph to the right supports their data after testing the same group after one month (Anderson-Hanley, Nimon, & Westen, 2010). This would need to be further researched upon other areas of the world and other races to have a broader scope from which to determine accuracy.
(Anderson-Hanley, et al., 2010).
The Stein Institute for Research on Aging frequently provides conferences with guest speakers and Dr. Amy Jak, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California recently spoke on the impact of exercise on cognitive functioning. Dr. Jakdiscussed some behavioral interventions that adults do have control over; one of those being exercise. Her goal is to keep people towards the normal aging spectrum and not have them move towards dementia. Her prediction is that if we do not come up with better interventions then in 2050 around 14 million older adults will have Alzheimer’s disease (SIRA, 2008). The overall converging evidence across the lifespan, both from animal and human studies, lead to the belief that exercise does contribute to improved cognitive function in older adults compared to adults that are more sedentary. fMRI results also showed and improved cognitive function (SIRA, 2008). Also noted (SIRA, 2008):
Looking at women specifically, one study of 2,736 women in their 80s, without evidence of dementia showed improved cognition with exercise (Barnes, Blackwell, Stone, Goldman, Hillier, & Yaffe, 2008). Women were measured using a watch like device that measured the women’s activity level over a period of time. The women were tested prior to the study and then post study as well and again the study showed improved cognition (Barnes, et al., 2008). Although the women in this study were overall affected in the positive with improved cognition this again is not to say that men are not also positively affected. In Successful Aging Through the lifespan, specifically in chapter four, it looks at the importance of exercise (both physically and cognitively) across the lifespan and how it helps especially senior adults. The thought is that since senior adults are already on a decline cognitively that with the exercise helps to counteract this to some degree and instead of such a decline they instead with stand this decline and instead even improve cognitively (Wykle, Whitehouse, & Morris, 2005). Dr. Amy Jak, even went so far as to say that exercise would help to fortify the cognitive area of the brain and help it recover from slight injuries (SIRA, 2008).
On a longer trial basis, another randomized study of 120 adults between the ages of 65-74 demonstrated that their was a definite connection between continual exercise and improved cognition. This study looked at the individuals in the study for a 12-month period, within the a group gym method for 3 hours per week. There was a base-line test (Mini Mental State Examination) completed and then another at the end of the test. At the end of the year the adults that were part of the treatment group were significantly improved, while the control group showed a decline in their MMSM score (Muscari, Giannoni, Pierpaoli, Berzigotti, Maietta, Foschi, Ravaioli, Poggiopollini, Bianchi, Magalotti, Tentoni, & Zoli, 2010).
Further research has been completed in the area of which type of physical activity is most affective. The fMRI scans below show the average scan. The blue area is the negative and shows the area for low fit individuals and the orange is the positive activation for high fit individuals. Looking at the x numbers below. The numbers for the physical fitness are lower than those for motor fitness. Each area deals with cognition and “activation patterns associated with motor and physical fitness seem to point to a very close connection as well as interdependency between different cortical networks” (Voelcker-Rehage, Godde, & Staudinger 2010).
In conclusion, exercise does improve cognition in all ages but in elderly adults exercise proves especially helpful not only to keep physical mobility fluid but also cognitively to halt decline in cognition loss (Wykle, Whitehouse, & Morris, 2005). It also continues to improve the level of cognition that they currently have, at a time when cognition typically only declines. There is still some question about the amount of time and exercise level that is required but the general consensus is that any amount helps but higher levels of aerobic exercise provide the most benefit. This is again because it provides the most oxygen to the brain (SIRA, 2008). It is also more effective in women and groups of individuals but again all can be helped by exercising.