Researchers from the UK decided to find out by pooling the results of 15 randomized controlled trials involving a total of 718 patients with mild-to-moderate dementia. Patients in the various studies’ cognitive stimulation groups participated in a wide range of activities that aimed to stimulate thinking and memory generally. Examples included discussing past and present events, playing word games, doing jigsaw puzzles, listening to music, baking and indoor gardening. Typically these were done as group activities involving trained staff plus a handful of dementia patients, though in some cases family caregivers provided the cognitive stimulation to their relatives on a one-to-one basis. Activities averaged 45 minutes, three times per week…and continued for anywhere from one month to two years.
Findings: Patients who participated in the cognitive stimulation activities reported improved quality of life and well-being…were found to communicate and interact with others better than they had previously…and their scores on tests of memory and thinking improved, too. The beneficial effects were seen not only at the end of treatment, but also during the study follow-up periods, which ranged from one to three months.
Brain gain: If a loved one has mild-to-moderate dementia, make a point of initiating stimulating discussions and involving the person in interesting group activities. Protect yourself, too: Even for people who don’t have dementia, lack of cognitive stimulation appears to hasten mental decline over the years—so pull out the jigsaw puzzles and Scrabble board and invite a few friends over for some brain-building fun.
Source: Bob Woods, MSc, is a professor of clinical psychology of the elderly and codirector of the Dementia Services Development Centre Wales at Bangor University in Bangor, Wales, and lead author of a study on dementia published in Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews.