More Evidence Physical Exercise May Improve Thinking in MCI
Maddie Snyder, TBH Summer Intern (Trinity College)
What: A recent study looking at the effects of aerobic training on mild cognitive impairment (MCI) found that the training was associated with improvements on cognitive testing. The subjects, 40 older individuals diagnosed with MCI (MMSE mean score of 27.4), participated in a moderately intense aerobic exercise program twice a week for twenty-four weeks. After the intervention, subjects showed significant improvement on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale – Cognitive (ADAS-C), a global measure of cognitive performance.
Why This Matters: This study shows that aerobic training may impact cognitive performance in individuals with mild impairment. This modest but consistent intervention of twice weekly exercise over a 6 month period is a very doable schedule for many of our clients, and it is helpful to see that such a program can demonstrate significant benefit. This finding adds to the literature on the potential benefits of aerobic exercise for the cognitively challenged population.
The Takeaway: All our clients, no matter their cognitive status, can benefit from regular aerobic exercise, even if it is just two days a week. It’s a great reminder to all of us that the next time we run or swim, we are not only working out our heart and lungs, but also our brains.
The “Cocktail Party” Effect in AD | Why A Crowded Room May be Different in Dementia
Margot Radding, TBH Summer Intern (Carleton College)
What: Researchers in the UK sought to explain why individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease may have a harder time distinguishing sounds in a noisy environment than cognitively healthy individuals of similar age. They examined functional neuroanatomical differences between those with healthy brains and patients with Alzheimer’s disease by using auditory stimulus testing, where the participant’s name is presented in the foreground or background (using the “cocktail party” effect, where their name is part of the general babble of the conversation). fMRI studies showed that while there was no difference in the part of the brain activated in both groups for the foreground trial, the Alzheimer’s subjects demonstrated significantly enhanced activation of a different part of the brain during the background trial, suggesting a diffusion of effort to interpret the sound.
Why This Matters: The enhanced and diffuse brain activation noted during the background trial in the Alzheimer’s group suggests that the activation is compensatory, such that the subjects in this group struggled more to understand while in the cocktail party environment. Though this compensatory activation is inefficient, it is the brain’s attempt at maintaining functionality. This study, though small, offers an interesting insight into the physiology of what we may observe in AD affected individuals as they work harder to follow conversations or seem to have difficulty processing information.
The Takeaway: Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease may have greater difficulty understanding verbal communications or taking part in conversations under conditions similar to the “cocktail party” effect, where there is a great deal of background stimulation.