Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


This study is a contradistinction to research which assesses the effects of exercise only on older adults who are in good health. This study examined the effect of an eight-week exercise program on 24 individuals with mental impairments, primarily Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Subjects were volunteers who resided in a long-term care skilled nursing facility (SNF). Group composition was 7 males, mean age 83.29 and 17 females, mean age 88.71; mental and physical function levels varied from supervised to total dependence of care. Six variables were tested: right and left shoulder flexibility, right and left hand grip strength, modified sit and reach flexibility, and life satisfaction. Subjects participated in a low intensity exercise program three days a week, with physical variables measured weekly. The data were analyzed in two stages. Only aggregate data were analyzed each week because group composition was inconsistent at any given point at time of measurement, principally due to participants' handicapping conditions and current physical health, but also due to participants' occasional refusal to participate on a given day. After the analysis of aggregate data is reported, individual subject case studies are presented, a necessity due to the population and participation rates. Results indicate that performance on physical variables using a means and standard deviation comparison to charting weekly progress did not show significant improvement. Pre- and posttests of right and left shoulder flexibility, right and left grip strength, and modified sit and reach were computed using a paired t-test. Significance was reached only for right shoulder flexibility t = 1.92, p = $<$.005. A life satisfaction assessment was administered as a pre- and posttest for the exercise program. Not all subjects were assessed due to cognition limitations; however, all but one of those assessed showed improvement in perceived life satisfaction (t = 8.91, p $<$.001).

Results suggest that physical functions of flexibility and strength can improve in people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia; however, more research is needed to determine possible contributions of physical exercise to cognitive functioning in individuals with progressive cognitive impairments. Additionally, longitudinal research may provide information to determine if physical exercise has a preventative or postponing effect on the characteristics of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.