Rationale for combined exercise and cognition-focused interventions to improve functional independence in people with dementia

Gerontology. 2011;57(3):265-75. doi: 10.1159/000322198. Epub 2010 Oct 27.


Evidence suggests that exercise and some cognition-focused intervention approaches can be used to elicit functional improvements in older people and, to some degree, those diagnosed with dementia. Independently, the two intervention types have been found to improve functional performance in people with dementia. The mechanisms underpinning these improvements come from comparable and diverse pathways. This suggests that it may be beneficial for the two intervention types to be coupled as part of regular care in individuals with a range of cognitive impairments. The aims of this review are threefold. The first aim is to present evidence to support the use for combining exercise and cognition-focused interventions. This will be achieved by reviewing the mechanisms of both approaches in improving functional performance in older people and in people with dementia and summarising recent progress. The increased risk of depression, falls and cardiovascular disease risk in people with dementia will also be highlighted. The second aim is to discuss the parameters of the two approaches that should be considered when combining them in terms of possible efficient models, especially in relation to exercise protocols as this is where the current literature shows the most promising outcomes. Maximisation of the efficacy of preventative and treatment interventions which focus on both cognitive functioning and physical health should lead to improving and extending functional independence. Key aspects of any combined intervention would involve the inclusion of both cardiovascular and other types of exercises, including falls reduction, and exercises addressing memory and executive function via goal setting in the real-life context. The third aim is to explore some of the issues that may arise when attempting to incorporate interventions into the regular treatment of people with dementia. Consideration must also be given to caregivers and the education of health professionals as well as to the mode of intervention itself. Further research is necessary in order to discern the most effective types of both intervention models. Provision of combined interventions might enhance the improvements in functional independence in people with dementia over and above the interventions being used separately.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Dementia / complications
  • Dementia / physiopathology
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Dementia / rehabilitation
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors