Battling working memory decline in mild cognitive impairment with exercise

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Mild cognitive impairment is a disorder which is linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Multiple complex mechanisms contribute to the disease and so far, no disease-modifying therapies are effective. This study focuses on the effect of an extensive six month exercise intervention (aerobic exercise, nonaerobic exercise, control) on working memory and cerebral prefrontal oxygenation. Working memory, an important aspect of cognitive decline, is measured by applying an N-back task (0-back, 1-back, 2- back) while simultaneously measuring oxy- and deoxyhemoglobin changes in the prefrontal cortex with near-infrared spectroscopy. The three different exercise groups will be compared on their behavioral performance and on changes in cerebral oxygenation patterns at the beginning of the intervention and after six months of treatment. To see how our participants score at baseline they were compared to data of healthy elderly participants (matched on age, sex, and educational level). Our results revealed that our MCI participants show decreased performance on the three difficulties of the N-back task when compared to the healthy elderly, but they do not differ in their reaction time. They show different mean oxygenation levels on the 1-back and 2-back difficulty in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This could be due to differing activation patterns during the 0-back difficulty between groups. No effect was found for the six month intervention on behavioral performance or oxygenation levels. It is clear that the mild cognitive impaired participants have working memory problems, however no conclusions can be made about the exercise intervention as group sizes are small.
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