AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– People living with dementia experience issues with memory, decision making and balance, which often leads to falls and injuries. A professor at Augusta University is studying ways to lower these risk factors.

Dr. Deborah Jehu plans to find out if exercise can improve quality of life for those living with dementia. Her study includes 42 participants, half of which will receive their usual care, and the others will do the Otaga exercise program.

“It’s a physical therapist lead fall prevention program involving strength and balance training three times per week for about 30 minutes and walking for at least 60 minutes per week over the course of six months,” Dr. Jehu said.

The program includes seated leg extensions, head and neck movements and other simple exercises.

“We’re hoping to find that exercise improves cognitive functioning in individuals living with mild to moderate dementia. Our secondary outcome measures are mobility, strength, mood such as depression and quality of life,” Dr. Jehu said.

Participants will wear watches that monitor their exercise and sleep patterns throughout the sixth month study.

Dr. Jehu and her team received a $25,000 grant for the trial, which is one of the first of its kind.

“There is mounting evidence that suggests that strength and balance training like the Otaga exercise program reduces falls by about 33 percent, however, individuals living with mild to moderate dementia have been systematically excluded from intervention trials. The very few studies that have been done have not been powered to examine falls or even fall risk factors because they’ve just been pilot studies,” Dr. Jehu said.

The team partnered with Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home for the trial.

Dr. Jehu says the findings could change the way dementia is treated in the future.

“If we find that exercise is improving cognitive functioning, this may help to improve the prescription of exercise among individuals living with moderate to mild dementia,” Dr. Jehu said.