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Study shows benefits of physical and cognitive play in dementia patients

Senso consists of a screen and a floor panel that measures steps, weight displacement and balance as users attempt to complete a sequence of movements shown on the screen. Dividat AG

Elderly participants who trained regularly on a fitness device developed by a Swiss company showed improvements in cognitive skills, such as attention, concentration, memory and orientation.

The study, carried out by an international team in two Belgian care homes, relied on a fitness game, known as “Exergame”, developed by a spin-off of the federal technology institute ETH Zurich.

“It has been suspected for some time that physical and cognitive training […] has a positive effect on dementia,” said research supervisor Eling de Bruin, an ETH Zurich researcher and a co-founder of the spin-off Dividat. “However, in the past it has been difficult to motivate dementia patients to undertake physical activity over extended periods.”

About half of the 45 participants, whose average age was 85 and who all displayed serious symptoms of dementia, trained for 15 minutes three times a week on the Dividat exercise device, Senso. Residents in the control group watched music videos of their choice.

Senso consists of a screen and a floor panel that measures steps, weight displacement and balance as users attempt to complete a sequence of movements shown on the screen. The fun fitness exercises train physical and cognitive functions simultaneously and motivate patients to get involved.

After eight weeks, the researchers measured the physical, cognitive and mental capacity of all participants and found that those who trained on Senso showed improvements in both cognitive and physical skills, such as reaction time. Conversely, members of the control group showed deterioration in the same period.

“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,” said de Bruin.

The results, which de Bruin’s team hope to replicate with people with mild cognitive impairment (a precursor of dementia), are published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.

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