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Effect of respiratory training on cognitive function in the elderly

Inadequate oxygenation may cause lesions and brain atrophy during aging. Studies show a positive association between pulmonary function and cognitive performance, especially in the elderly. Structural changes in the in the respiratory system of elderly people may contribute to the cognitive decline. In order to help maintain cognitive function, research studying the effect of respiratory training was conducted.

Aerobic exercise and respiratory training were tested for their effects on cognitive function.

Key Findings

  • Reduced respiratory function may lead to inadequate oxygenation of the brain and contribute to cognitive decline in the elderly.
  • Improving respiratory muscle strength may slow down cognitive decline.
  • Respiratory training using incentive spirometry was compared to aerobic exercise and social interaction only in community-dwelling elderly for its impact on cognitive function.
  • Exercise and respiratory training improved pulmonary function.
  • Respiratory training improved cognitive function, especially abstraction and mental flexibility.
  • Respiratory training improves cognitive function in the elderly.

Study Methods

Respiratory muscle strength, cognitive function, oxygen saturation in the blood, hemogram and thoracic-abdominal circumference were tested before and after six months of either respiratory training by incentive spirometry, aerobic exercise, or social interaction (control group) in community-dwelling elderly.

Study Results

Aerobic exercise and respiratory training were effective in improving pulmonary parameters. Cognitive function remained stable in the exercise group, except for attention, but only improved in the respiratory training group in the fields abstraction and mental flexibility, with worst cognitive results for the control group.

In conclusion, both exercise and respiratory training serve to improve pulmonary function.  Respiratory training was also shown to improve cognitive function (abstraction and mental flexibility).

References

Ferreira L. Respiratory training as strategy to prevent cognitive decline in aging: a randomized controlled trial. Clin Interv Aging. 2015; 10: 593–603.

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