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Exercise, Activities May Reduce Dementia-Related Depression

Two seniors walking on the beach togetherExercise and group activities can reduce depression symptoms and provide support to people facing a dementia diagnosis, according to two new studies.

One study, a dissertation from Umeå University, found people with dementia who participated in either group exercise or another group activity had a reduction in symptoms of depression. A second study, published in Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice, found community-based support groups could empower people who had received an early diagnosis of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Exercise and Group Activities for Dementia

To explore the benefits of exercise and group activities, doctoral student Gustaf Boström compared the effects of 45 minutes of functional exercise to those of seated group activities. Seniors participating in the exercise program performed balance and leg-strengthening activities every other weekday for four months. Seniors in the group activity sat while singing, listening to readings, or talking for 45 minutes every other weekday.

There were no differences in outcome between the two groups, though both experienced a reduction in symptoms of depression. Boström says depression is common among people with dementia. Antidepressants sometimes fail to work in this group, and their side effects can exacerbate other health issues. His research suggests recurring activities, whether exercise-based or not, might be a valid antidepressant substitute.

The Role of Community Support Groups

An unrelated study explored the role of social support in people with dementia. Researchers looked at the effects of day treatment programs for people with dementia. These programs keep seniors active, while giving family members a break from caregiving duties.

One program, Paul’s Club, offers social and recreational activities three days a week. Participants engage in a range of activities, including physical exercise, group outings, and lunch. The group always walks together, providing both physical activity and a predictable routine. The study’s authors suggest this program connects members to the community, establishing a sense of belonging. Participants in programs like Paul’s Club may be able to continue living at home longer than peers who do not participate in such programs.

Taken together, both studies point to the value of ongoing physical and social activities for seniors with dementia.


  1. Group activities reduced depressive symptoms among older people with dementia. (2016, May 3). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-05/uu-gar050316.php
  2. Latest Alzheimer’s facts and figures. (2013, September 17). Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/facts/
  3. Phinney, A., Kellen, E. E., Baumbusch, J., O’Connor, D., & Purves, B. (2016). Walking in the neighbourhood: Performing social citizenship in dementia. Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice. Retrieved from https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/facultyresearchandpublications/52383/items/1.0300370
  4. Social clubs fill gap in dementia support. (2016, May 3). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-05/uobc-scf050216.php

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  • Susy

    May 4th, 2016 at 2:10 PM

    OK good this is what I am counting on. Both of my parents passed away fairly young from dementia related causes and I have prayed and prayed that this would not be my fate. My doctor told me years ago that exercise it was though could help ward off some of those symptoms and perhaps even the tendency toward developing dementia related illnesses and so I started working out every day faithfully. At the very least I guess if it is still meant to be then it will get me but cardio wise I will be in great shape!

  • Sloan

    May 5th, 2016 at 1:36 PM

    Oh but people don’t want to hear that there are actually things that they can do to control some of those things. They just wanna pop a pill and make it all better.

  • janie

    May 7th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    I think that more and more people are beginning to have a little better understanding of the role of doing things for yourself and how these can be beneficial. But I think that what they struggle with is making time for these things even when you know that they could help. It’s as if we can make time for so many other things but taking care of ourselves and doing things that are healthy for us? Not so much.

  • Alice

    May 10th, 2016 at 2:03 PM

    It must be very hard for someone to find out that they are destined to have dementia, especially when thy receive that diagnosis in the prime of their lives. I would think that becoming depressed would almost go with the territory but you know that it has to be so difficult to think about becoming like this when you are still aware enough to know that this is what is going to happen to you.

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