If you are physically fit in older age, are you less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia? According to a recent article in The Washington Post, “physically fit women seem to live longer free of dementia.” Given that dementia often makes individuals more vulnerable to nursing home abuse, the Alzheimer’s Association reports, finding ways to prevent seniors from developing dementia in the first place could help to reduce the rate of elder abuse and neglect.
When does physical fitness need to start in order to reduce a woman’s likelihood of developing dementia? What should families in Valley Center know about the links between physical fitness, dementia, and the reduced risk of nursing home abuse or neglect?
New Research Shows That Physical Fitness in Middle Age can Prevent Dementia Years Later
New research published in the journal Neurology contends that, “if you’re a woman, being highly physically fit in middle age may provide an advantage years later with respect to dementia.” To be more specific, women who remain very healthy in middle-age years may have an 11-year advantage with respect to developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia on women who are moderately physically fit during that period of their lives. To be sure, on average, women who show signs of high physical fitness beginning in their 50s are likely to live 11 additional years dementia-free than women who are not as health conscious.
How did the researchers go about their study? They examined the health of 191 different women over a period of 44 years, from the time when those women were in their 50s up until they were in their 90s. They tracked the women’s physical fitness levels by using bicycle exercise tests designed to measure cardiovascular health. What were the key findings? In short, “women who were most fit at midlife were 88% less likely than the moderately fit to develop dementia later on.” Even when those highly fit women did develop dementia, they tended to do so at a much later age—age 90, on average, instead of age 79, on average, for less fit women.
Exercise can Help the Brain and May Prevent Nursing Home Abuse Risk Factors
When we talk about dementia, the article clarifies, we are referring to many different symptoms that have to do with a general loss of thinking skills. These skills include “the ability to think, problem solve, and reason that interfere with daily functioning.” While there is more research to be done—to be sure, this is only one study—the results do suggest that exercise plays an important role in keeping the brain healthy.
Indeed, since dementia results from brain cell loss, it makes sense that exercise could thereby help to reduce the risk of dementia since it “promotes the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and healthier brain cells.” And since dementia patients tend to be more vulnerable when it comes to nursing home abuse, preventing dementia could prevent elder abuse in the nursing home setting.
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(image courtesy of Matthew Lejune)