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'Exergaming' may help Alzheimer's

A new study has found that exercising while playing video games may help people living with Alzheimer's.

Older people with mild cognitive impairment, which often occurs before dementia, showed better 'executive functions' after playing interactive games while riding exercise bikes - known as 'exergaming', the study by New York’s Union College shows.

Executive functions enable people to multi-task, make decisions and recall memories.

"Executive function is like the CEO of the brain. It is key to remaining independent in later life,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Cay Anderson-Hanley.

“For example, it allows you to cook two things on the stove at once. It makes sure you don't forget that you are boiling water while also having something in the oven.”

The researchers believe the combination of exercise and a mental challenge helped stimulate the brain.

"It's promising data,” Prof. Anderson-Hanley said.

“Exergaming is one more thing that could be added to the arsenal of tools to fight back against this cruel disease.

“The goal is to explore even more effective ways to prevent or ameliorate cognitive decline in older adults by tailoring accessibility and level of mental engagement in interactive cognitive and physical exercise. 

“The results suggest that the best outcome for brain health may result when we do both: move it and use it.”

The researchers are hoping to develop a game that older people can download to their iPads and play while riding an exercise bike at home.

They also plan to conduct a larger study investigating the benefits of exergaming, Prof. Anderson-Hanley said.

The researchers analysed 14 people with an average age of 78, who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

Half the participants pedalled along a scenic virtual reality path several times a week while the remainder rode an exercise bike while playing a video game that required them to chase dragons and collect coins.

The study participants were compared against people who either only played video games or just rode exercise bikes.

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

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