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Clinical study shows that an active lifestyle can slow cognitive decline in people with inherited forms of frontotemporal dementia

Wednesday 08 January 2020

On 8 January, Kaitlin Casaletto and colleagues published a paper in the Alzheimer’s and Dementia journal, identifying a link between active lifestyles and reduced cognitive decline in people living with inherited forms of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Approximately 40% of people with FTD have a family history of disease, with 10% of individuals possessing autosomal dominant mutations in genes such asC9orf72andMAPT. The autosomal dominant mode of inheritance means that a single mutated copy of these genes can cause a particular trait – in this case, the development of FTD. Previously, the DIAN Study of individuals with autosomal dominant forms of Alzheimer’s disease showed that higher levels of physical activity were associated with better cognitive and functional outcomes.  Kaitlin Casaletto and colleagues therefore set out to evaluate the relationship between physical activity and brain health outcomes in a cohort of individuals with inherited, autosomal dominant FTD.

The researchers recruited 105 FTD mutation carriers and 69 non-carriers to the study, analysing their physical and cognitive activities over a period of 3 years based on self-reported measures called the PASE (Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly) and CAS (Cognitive Activity Scale). MRI scans were also performed.  Greater physical and cognitive activities were associated with a substantial reduction in clinical decline per year in FTD mutation carriers.  This was in spite of continued frontotemporal atrophy: even among participants who showed signs of brain atrophy, those that were physically and cognitively active showed sustained improvement on cognitive tests compared to their counterparts who were the least physically and cognitively active. Together, these results suggest that an active lifestyle – both physically and cognitively – may confer clinical resilience to cognitive decline in autosomal dominant FTD.  However, the researchers cautioned that further studies that experimentally manipulate physical and/or cognitive activities are required in order to validate this hypothesis.