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1st Signs of Dementia May Be Physical

Mental Declines Come Later, Study Suggests

Can Exercise Delay Alzheimer’s? continued...

Older people in the earlier study who reported exercising three times a week or more developed Alzheimer’s a third less often during the six-year-old study than people who exercised less.

Larson says an older person who does not exercise and is declining physically should be encouraged to become more physically active.

“Many people just sit down and accept the inevitable, and if you accept the inevitable you will get it,” he says.

Dallas Anderson, PhD, of the National Institute on Aging, agrees that regular exercise is important for the elderly for a host of reasons. But he adds that it is not yet clear if delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s is one of them.

Anderson is program director for studies into the epidemiology of dementiadementia with the Dementias of Aging branch of the NIA.

It has been suggested that regular exercise protects against mental decline by improving blood flow to the brain.

That may be true, Anderson tells WebMD. But it may also be true that older people tend to become less physically active with advancing mental decline. So instead of regular exercise being protective against dementia, it may just be a sign that mental function has not been impaired.

“In a sense the dementia process could be causing people to exercise less,” Anderson says.

He also points out that older people who exercise regularly may have other habits that could help reduce their Alzheimer’s risk.

“They are probably more disciplined,” he says. “They may eat a better diet or be more socially engaged. They may be doing any number of things that seem to be positive.”

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