A lifestyle that’s physically and mentally active may slow the progression of inherited frontotemporal dementia, according to an ongoing study’s initial results.

Frontotemporal dementia is a distinct form of brain degeneration that accounts for up to 15% of all dementia cases. About 40% of people with the disease appear to inherit it, wrote the researchers. To find out whether an active lifestyle has an effect on symptoms, investigators are following 105 people who have inherited the disease-causing genes. At the study’s start, participants were either asymptomatic or had mild, early-stage symptoms. 

Early in the investigation, the most and least active study participants showed significant differences in the speed and severity of dementia progression, said Kaitlin Casaletto, Ph.D., from the University of California, San Francisco. Functional decline, assessed by participants’ family members, was 55% slower in the most active participants compared to the least active. “This was a remarkable effect to see so early on,” said Casaletto. “If this were a drug, we would be giving it to all of our patients.”

Lifestyle did not significantly alter the progress of degeneration seen in the brain scans. But the most active participants continued to perform twice as well as the least active participants on cognitive tests, Casaletto and colleagues reported.

“These results suggest that active lifestyles may slow FTD symptoms by providing some form of cognitive resilience to the consequences of brain degeneration,” concluded the study team.

An article was published Wednesday online in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.