Meaningful activities to keep the mind fit during periods of isolation
People living with dementia and their family carers are often advised that ‘mental exercise’ may be helpful in slowing down the decline in memory and thinking experienced by many with a diagnosis of dementia. One form of mental exercise is called ‘cognitive stimulation therapy’.
What is cognitive stimulation?
Cognitive stimulation therapy involves a wide range of activities that aim to stimulate thinking and memory generally; activities may include discussion of past and present events and topics of interest, word games, puzzles, music and practical activities such as baking or gardening. Typically, cognitive stimulation therapy is delivered with groups of four or five people living with dementia and carried out by trained staff, such as psychologists or occupational therapists. Groups will last for around 45 minutes at least twice a week.
However, these are unusual times so it’s important to remember that family carers can also been trained to provide cognitive stimulation to the person they care for on a one‐to‐one basis in and around the home.
There is evidence to show that people living with dementia who undertake word or number puzzles frequently show better performance across all cognitive areas (memory, thinking, reasoning, attention, organising, planning, etc.) compared to those who never use them. Research shows that cognitive improvement is similar for either type of puzzle, whether that be word or number based, so it is participating in a brain engaging activity on a regular basis that is the important thing.
How does cognitive stimulation compare with other treatments?
Improvements following cognitive stimulation were compared with those seen without treatment and with standard treatments, such as, medicine, day care or visits from community mental health workers. People living with dementia who received cognitive stimulation showed greater benefits in memory and mental tests than did those who had received standard treatments and the benefits lasted for longer after the cognitive stimulation stopped.
As with any meaningful activity used in dementia care there is also evidence to show that people living with dementia who undertake puzzle activities on a regular basis report an improved quality of life. Family carers found the person they care for communicated and interacted better than they did before they received cognitive stimulation activities. Importantly, family carers that facilitated and delivered cognitive stimulation did not find it stressful or a burden to their everyday caring activities.
Such cognitive stimulation exercises seem to be of more benefit to people living in the mild to moderate stages of dementia. There are other, more focused activities that are of more use for people living with dementia in the more advanced stages, such as Namaste.