Study seeks if exercise can help cognitive functions of those with Down Syndrome

by | Apr 14, 2021 | News

There really aren’t that many Down Syndrome-specific studies done in Canada, until now.

A new emerging study being led by the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, in partnership with the Anglia Ruskin University and BrainHQ, hopes to show how regular physical exercise can help the cognitive functions of those with Down Syndrome.

It initially went into its pilot phase on World Down Syndrome Day on March 21.

“This is kind of the first step, and then we want to also see, hopefully in the future, how the long-term effects of this can be,” said Viviane Merzbach, a research assistant at Anglia Ruskin University.

Laura Lachance, the interim executive director for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society said that with or without the pandemic, this study was still going to happen as a planned effort.

“I wish there was something more romantic I could say [about it],” she said. “However, I suppose we could correlate for anybody during the pandemic.”

Lachance also said there are indeed “all sorts of moving pieces” when it comes to conducting this study.

“We’re very much looking forward to [this study],” she said, “We’re glad to take some leadership in hopefully inspiring some other researchers to look at our small group.”

The study has eligible participants with Down Syndrome from around the world fill out a questionnaire, and then for about six days a week for eight weeks, record the exercise they do on their Fitbits. That would be followed by playing brain-training games on the BrainHQ app to see how their results compare to those of the study’s control group.

“We’re looking forward to a good relationship with the study doctor’s assistant whose going to be helping with coordinating the participants,” Lachance said.

Merzbach said it was quite surprising to actually be contacted by the CDSS.

“It was like one of those emails that you receive and you’re not quite sure if this actually a proper email [from] someone whose actually interested in helping you with the research,” she said. “I think potentially they’ve [CDSS] saw an article we’ve written before and I think that’s the link that they saw.”

In their study, Merzbach and co-author Dan Gordon found “the consensus is that exercise is of clear benefit to the Down’s Syndrome individual both in terms of cardiovascular and neuromuscular responses.”

Despite this current study being conducted during a pandemic, Merzbach said that while it is different than what they’d usually do, it might not change the ending results from when hypothetically, there wasn’t a pandemic at all.

“It’s very different, but it’s [also] very good,” she said, “because the study is so needed, and it’s great.”

Julie Everett, a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, agrees.

“I don’t think that the results will be any different,” she said.

Everett also said whatever results come from this study it will help to benefit her as a parent, as well as her child with Down Syndrome.

“I think that it would make me more aware or in-tuned to the fact that I need to do more exercising with him [my child], to keep his level of exercise up,” she said. “But hopefully he would be in a better mind frame to learn.”

However, Everett adds she doesn’t want to force her child to do exercise in order to benefit his cognitive functions.

Regardless, Lachance, Everett and Merzbach all hope the study shows exercise becomes another good way to help with the cognitive functions of those a part of the Down Syndrome community.

“We’re very pleased to be leading the charge, and seeing the ability and helping people understand individuals with Down Syndrome,” Lachance said.