The benefits of a combined cognitive and functional-task based exercise program for older adults with mild cognitive impairment: preliminary findings from a pilot study

Mrs Luciana Theodoro De Freitas1, Adjunct Professor Tilley Pain1,2, Associate Professor Fiona Barnett2

1Queensland Health, Townsville, Australia, 2James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

Background: Dementia is a leading cause of disability worldwide including Australia. Effective interventions are urgently needed to prevent or slow progression of the disease and its overall burden to the person, community and health services. It is known that 14% of people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) can progress to dementia. Although, no high-quality evidence exists supporting pharmacologic and non-pharmacological intervention for MCI, exercise programs show promise. This pilot-study aimed to identify the feasibility and acceptability of a combined cognitive and functional-task based exercise program.

Method: A mixed methods approach using qualitative and quantitative measures was used. Outcome measures for the quantitative data included cognitive and functional assessments. Initial and post intervention assessments included Neurobehavioral Cognitive Status Examination, Verbal Fluency Test, Verbal Learning Test, Trial Making Test A and B, Lawton Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Scale and Problems in Everyday Living Test. Individual interviews were conducted with caregivers and participants of the ten-week intervention program.

Results: Approximately 80% of the 23 participants completed the program demonstrating its acceptability. Interim results show significant improvements in several cognitive and functional areas. The improvements demonstrate the non-pharmacological intervention is beneficial for people at risk of dementia. The qualitative findings suggest the program is viewed positively by participants and caregivers. Some of the benefits described by the participants are evident in their activities of daily living including development of strategies to remember important tasks such as taking medication.

Conclusion: The combined cognitive and functional-task based exercise program demonstrated significant improvement on cognitive and functional abilities for people with MCI. Non-pharmacological interventions can be used safely as a health promotion program minimising the dementia burden in the current aging population.


Luciana is a passionate Occupational Therapist currently employed as a Clinical Research Coordinator in Queensland Health in collaboration with James Cook University.  She has a strong commitment for evidence based approaches and values research through clinical experiences. Her current research explores interventions which improves not only cognition but occupational engagement for people with mild cognitive impairment. She is highly interested in research within aged care and adult mental health population.

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