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Original Contribution
October 15, 2003

Exercise Plus Behavioral Management in Patients With Alzheimer Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Departments of Psychosocial and Community Health (Drs Teri, Gibbons, McCurry, and Logsdon, Biostatistics (Dr Barlow), Epidemiology (Dr Kukull), and Medicine (Drs McCormick and Larson), University of Washington, Seattle; Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga (Dr Buchner); and Center for Health Studies, Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, Wash (Drs Barlow, LaCroix, and Larson).

JAMA. 2003;290(15):2015-2022. doi:10.1001/jama.290.15.2015

Context Exercise training for patients with Alzheimer disease combined with teaching caregivers how to manage behavioral problems may help decrease the frailty and behavioral impairment that are often prevalent in patients with Alzheimer disease.

Objective To determine whether a home-based exercise program combined with caregiver training in behavioral management techniques would reduce functional dependence and delay institutionalization among patients with Alzheimer disease.

Design, Setting, and Patients Randomized controlled trial of 153 community-dwelling patients meeting National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Diseases and Stroke/Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders Association criteria for Alzheimer disease, conducted between June 1994 and April 1999.

Interventions Patient-caregiver dyads were randomly assigned to the combined exercise and caregiver training progam, Reducing Disability in Alzheimer Disease (RDAD), or to routine medical care (RMC). The RDAD program was conducted in the patients' home over 3 months.

Main Outcome Measures Physical health and function (36-item Short-Form Health Survey's [SF-36] physical functioning and physical role functioning subscales and Sickness Impact Profile's Mobility subscale), and affective status (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and Cornell Depression Scale for Depression in Dementia).

Results At 3 months, in comparison with the routine care patients, more patients in the RDAD group exercised at least 60 min/wk (odds ratio [OR], 2.82; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.25-6.39; P = .01) and had fewer days of restricted activity (OR, 3.10; 95% CI, 1.08-8.95; P<.001). Patients in the RDAD group also had improved scores for physical role functioning compared with worse scores for patients in the RMC group (mean difference, 19.29; 95% CI, 8.75-29.83; P<.001). Patients in the RDAD group had improved Cornell Depression Scale for Depression in Dementia scores while the patients in the RMC group had worse scores (mean difference, −1.03; 95% CI, −0.17 to −1.91; P = .02). At 2 years, the RDAD patients continued to have better physical role functioning scores than the RMC patients (mean difference, 10.89; 95% CI, 3.62-18.16; P = .003) and showed a trend (19% vs 50%) for less institutionalization due to behavioral disturbance. For patients with higher depression scores at baseline, those in the RDAD group improved significantly more at 3 months on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (mean difference, 2.21; 95% CI, 0.22-4.20; P = .04) and maintained that improvement at 24 months (mean difference, 2.14; 95% CI, 0.14-4.17; P = .04).

Conclusion Exercise training combined with teaching caregivers behavioral management techniques improved physical health and depression in patients with Alzheimer disease.