Numerous studies have proven that exercise delays and possibly helps prevent the onset of dementia in older adults. But in reality, just 14 percent of adults age 65 to 74 actually participate in regular physical exercise. Among adults 75 years and older, the figure drops to just seven percent.
The Union College’s Healthy Aging and Neuropsychology Lab researcher, Cay Anderson-Handley, devised a study to determine whether computer-aided exercise (such as the use of a stationary bike accompanied by a computer-generated video) provided the same benefits.
More than 100 volunteers (between the ages of 58 and 99) residing in an independent living facility, with access to an indoor exercise bike, participated in the study. Participants were monitored three times per week for a total of three months, and cognitive function was assessed periodically.
Researchers evaluated executive functions at the start of the study, one month after and three months after the conclusion of the study, including:
- Working memory
In addition, participants’ blood plasma was evaluated periodically to check for levels of a neurotrophic growth factor (brain-derived), which can be used as a measure of brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is a medical term used to describe the ability of the brain to compensate for injury or atrophy, essentially re-wiring itself to create alternate pathways to perform functions usually controlled by other areas.
Both the control group and the experimental group participated in the same amount and frequency of exercising. However, participants in the experimental group, which used computer-aided visuals and techniques to enhance solitary stationary bike exercise, showed a 23 percent greater reduction in progression to dementia in comparison to the control group.
The bottom line
Video games may get a bad rap for overuse by the younger generation, but in the older adult population, there are clear benefits to incorporating “exergames” in a general fitness program. This study demonstrates a clear benefit to enhancing solitary stationary bike use with computer-generated programs and features, at least in terms of cognitive benefit. So while video games are often criticized for being “mindless” activities for youth, older adults can reap significant cognitive benefits from specially-designed programs.
Read the full study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.