Cognitively enriched walking interventions for older adults to boost cognitive plasticity
Dementia currently affects more than 47 million people worldwide, is forecasted to triple by 2050 and is one of the most costly disorders in Belgium. There is good scientific evidence that the cognitive impairments associated with the development of dementia can be lessened or even reverse because of the plasticity of the brain (rewiring). Recent research has shown that engaging in regular physical activity combined with performing cognitively challenging tasks is a very potent way to induce this rewiring of the neural system that can enable people to regain cognitive functions or prevent decline. Yet, so far, this evidence is based mainly on controlled laboratory conditions. In this project, we will translate this laboratory-based evidence into a real-life intervention that is easily accessible and specifically tailored to the needs of the aging population. We will build upon a wellestablished physical activity program for older adults in Belgium (“healthy walks”) and enrich it with cognitive training. We will work with older adults, health professionals and scientists to define the optimum cognitive activities that can feasibly deliver in group settings. We will undertake qualitative work and conduct pilot trials to finalize the intervention. We then aim to demonstrate the added value of including cognitive activities to an existing physical activity program in improving cognitive functioning of older adults by conducting a randomized controlled trial.