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Seniors' Health: Exercise mind and body to improve memory

Training program improves quality of life, but researchers don't know whether it will head off dementia

People with mild memory problems can improve their quality of life through a special training program — provided they do their homework.

In a program offered by the Baycrest Research Centre in Toronto, researchers found that patients who are taught strategies to improve memory have decreased stress and more confidence than those who don’t have the training.

A three-month evaluation of the program showed those who benefited the most were the ones who worked hardest at learning and using the memory strategies.

But while the training helps patients function better, there is not yet any proof it can delay progression to dementia, according to Kelly Murphy, a psychologist at Baycrest. “People with mild cognitive impairment are at high risk of developing dementia,” she says.

Various lifestyle factors can contribute to an improvement in memory, such as eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly and participating in stimulating activities.

The Baycrest program promotes these healthy lifestyle choices and teaches memory strategies. For example, participants are taught to use a memory book that includes a calendar, to-do lists and other practical material that can help with staying on track with daily life and activities. They are also taught to repeat things such as names at regular intervals to aid with memory.