Exercise for Dementia Patients

Researcher who broke the dogma that the adult brain can’t change and regenerate now promotes exercise

A researcher who broke the dogma that the adult brain can’t change and regenerate has been awarded the 2015 CSL Florey Medal, which recognises significant achievements in biomedical science and human health advancement.

Professor Perry Bartlett who predicted the existence of stem cells in the human brain in 1982 then later found them in mouse brains is now waking them up with exercise.

Bartlett, Foundation Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Queensland and founding Director of the Queensland Brain Institute, is beginning a trial to put people with dementia on treadmills, in the hope that their neurons will regrow. He has already reversed dementia and recovered spatial memories in mice through exercise. During 2016 he’ll aim to discover if exercise will have the same impact in people with dementia. A future project will look at depression.

Underpinning these projects is the idea that the brain is constantly changing and that learning, memory, mood, and many other brain functions are, in part, regulated by the production of new neurons.

When Perry started exploring the brain in 1977 the mature brain was regarded as static and unchangeable. He challenged this dogma and his work has led to a transformation in our understanding of the brain.

In 1982, Perry predicted that there were stem cells in the brain. In 1992, he found them in mouse embryos then in adult mice then, a decade later, he isolated them from the forebrain. His next big project was building up the Queensland Brain Institute from 10 people to 500 in a little more than a decade.

Dementia affects more than 300,000 Australians and many more cases are expected as our population ages. It’s a devastating condition and the direct cost to the community is more than $5 billion a year. The impact on families is beyond measure.