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Intensive physical exercise may improve mobility and functional limitations in older people with dementia

Pitkala K, Savikko N, Pousti M, et al. Efficacy of physical exercise intervention on mobility and physical functioning in older people with dementia: A systematic review Exp Gerontol. 2013;48:85-93.

Review question

What is the effect of physical exercise on mobility and physical function in older people with dementia?


Exercise has already been proven to be beneficial for improving mobility and physical functioning and for preventing falls in healthy older people. The effects of exercise among people with dementia are less well known.

People with dementia have additional problems with physical functioning, including increased rigidity, slower walking speeds, and challenges with balance and activities of daily living.

How the review was done

This is a summary of a high-quality systematic review of 20 randomized controlled trials with a total of 1378 participants. Participants were older people in the community or in nursing homes diagnosed with dementia.

Exercise interventions included endurance training, strength training, balance and coordination exercises, or functional exercises. Training was performed in groups or individually, with or without a trainer or supervisor.

Training sessions were 30 min to 2.5 hours in length, with 2 to 7 sessions per week lasting 7 weeks to 6 months.

What the researchers found

The included studies were quite diverse in terms of study design, exercise intervention and outcomes included, so the authors were unable to pool the results.

16 of 20 studies showed that exercise was effective for either reducing functional limitations or improving physical functioning.


Intensive physical exercise (at least twice per week) may improve some aspects of mobility or functional limitations of older people with dementia.


Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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