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Mind-Stimulating Activities for Individuals with Dementia

Recommendations given in the 2011 World Alzheimer’s Report suggest 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.

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The signs were subtle at first. A face she couldn’t place. A word she couldn’t remember. An appointment she forgot. Fortunately, your mom noticed these signs of memory loss early and decided to seek medical attention right away. The diagnosis: a mild stage of dementia. Her doctor has prescribed medication, but is there is anything else you can suggest she do?

The answer is yes! Research has shown that cognitive stimulation helps to slow the progression of dementia in the early stages. Read on to discover great ways to encourage Mom to be proactive in looking to potentially minimize her symptoms and improve the quality of her life.

Proven Benefits of Cognitive Stimulation in People with Dementia

A Cochrane Library study 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,
  • Puzzles,
  • 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 well-being and social participation.

Mind-Stimulating Activities for Dementia Patients

Activities that provide cognitive stimulation ideally target both an individual’s mental and social functioning. Cognitive stimulation can be administered either in a group setting, such as that of a skilled care home or residential care setting, or it can be provided individually by a professional or family caregiver and tailored to the individual's specific interests and abilities.

Consider suggesting a variety of activities in the following categories:

  • Thinking – puzzles, games, reading
  • Physical – walking, 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 making and eating a special family recipe together offers a wealth of additional ideas for ways that individuals with dementia can benefit from memory-related activities. Visit the Capturing 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 any other way to coordinate activities that promote cognitive functioning, in-home services from a home care provider such as Home Instead can help ensure a loved one can take advantage of the benefits of cognitive stimulation.

Last revised: June 26, 2019

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