May 14, 2012
A common question many senior care professionals hear from individuals just diagnosed with dementia is:
"Is there anything I can do, besides taking medicine, that might help my memory?"
The general belief is that yes, cognitive stimulation can help slow the decline of dementia in its early stages. Here are recent study results that strongly support that general belief, along with mind-stimulating activities that you can suggest to your dementia patients and their families.
Proven Benefits of Cognitive Stimulation in People with Dementia
A systematic review published in the Cochrane Library titled Cognitive Stimulation to Improve Cognitive Functioning in People With Dementia evaluated the "effectiveness and impact of cognitive stimulation interventions aimed at improving cognition for people with dementia."
The review included 15 trials with a total of 718 participants in the mild to moderate stages of dementia. Cognitive stimulation activities included:
- Discussion of past and present events and topics of interest,
- Word games,
- Music, and
- Practical activities such as baking or indoor gardening.
These activities were typically carried out for about 45 minutes at least twice a week.
The findings revealed "a clear, consistent benefit on cognitive function was associated with cognitive stimulation (standardized mean difference (SMD) 0.41, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.57)." The benefit remained evident one to three months after the end of the treatment.
Overall, participants who received cognitive stimulation also reported improved quality of life and they were able to communicate and interact better than previously.
These findings support the recommendations given in the 2011 World Alzheimer's Report, which suggests that routinely providing individualized cognitive stimulation to those with mild to moderate stages of dementia can produce short-term improvements and/or reduce decline in cognitive function. In addition to improving cognitive function in individuals with dementia, trial results from non-pharmacological interventions revealed improved functional status, quality of life, psychological wellbeing and social participation.
Mind-Stimulating Activities for Dementia Patients
Activities that provide cognitive stimulation ideally target both mental and social functioning. Cognitive stimulation can be administered either in a group setting, such as that of a nursing home or residential care setting, or it can be provided individually by a professional or family caregiver and tailored to the affected individual's specific interests and abilities.
Consider suggesting a variety of activities in the following categories:
- Thinking – puzzles, games, reading
- Physical – take a walk, arm and leg exercises, dancing
- Social – visiting with family and friends, senior center activities
- Chores – folding the laundry, setting the table, feeding the pets
- Creative – arts and crafts projects, painting, playing music or singing
- Daily living – taking a shower, brushing teeth, eating, getting dressed
Reminiscence therapy is another type of cognitive stimulation that can help improve the quality of life for an individual with dementia. Reminiscence activities may include:
- Looking through photo albums
- Creating a scrapbook
- Telling "I remember when" stories
- Re-reading saved letters and greeting cards
- Listening to music
- Baking and eating a special family recipe together
HelpForAlzheimersFamilies.com offers a wealth of additional ideas and best practices for ways individuals with dementia can benefit from memory-related activities. Visit the Capturing and Leveraging Memories page for tips to stimulate meaningful conversation, activity ideas that use the senses to evoke memories, and more.
If an individual with dementia does not currently have a family member or other means of coordinating activities that promote cognitive functioning, companionship services from a non-medical in-home care provider can help ensure that individual can take advantage of the benefits of cognitive stimulation.
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