Cognitive Therapy for Dementia Patients: Overview

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Can cognitive exercises for dementia help delay the progression of memory loss?

Dementia is a neurological condition marked by significant memory loss and cognitive impairment. It leads to behavioral changes and is responsible for a compromised quality of life in people diagnosed with this condition. People with dementia have difficulties with thinking, remembering, and making decisions which in turn affect their everyday living. Dementia is chronic and progressive, meaning it gets worse with time.

Medications and other supportive measures are always the first lines of treatment for dementia. Apart from this, other non-medical interventions have gained prominence in caring for people with dementia. One such intervention focuses on training the brain through a series of cognitive exercises. 

Cognitive or Brain training as it is popularly known has shown promising results in improving cognitive functions and slowing down the pace of declining memory, thinking, and other important functions associated with dementia. This training is based on the ‘use it or lose it’ theory. According to this, we need to keep challenging our brains with specific cognitive exercises to strengthen neural connections. This in turn helps in preventing the decline or loss of its functions. 

Apart from eating vitamin and antioxidant-rich diet and regular physical exercises which are necessary for the aging brain, there is also a pressing need for cognitive activities that help exercise our neural networks and work towards preserving our brain health.

These activities form a part of cognitive stimulation programs for dementia management as well as the prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia. These provide a variety of brain-boosting exercises, memory and problem-solving strategies, multisensory stimulation, and memory aids like calendars and notebooks. Such programs are known to specifically benefit people who are at risk of developing dementia and those in its early stages. However, people in the later stages would also need to implement these to ensure some level of day-to-day functioning and independence. 

Outlined below are some exercises known to boost the functions of the aging brain.

Exercises for early-stage dementia: 

Care for dementia patients is needed in the early stages to prevent a rapid progression of memory loss. Exercising the brain helps reduce the neural damage associated with dementia-related conditions. It helps in the growth of new neural structures and strengthens the existing neural networks. These will in turn work towards minimizing the impact of dementia progression. 

Those in the early stages can benefit from the following exercises to stimulate their brain functions:

  • Social activities
  • Participating in cultural activities
  • Community volunteering 
  • Building connections by regular visits to parks and other public spaces 
  • Recreational activities
  • Learning a new language
  • Taking up a hobby or developing artistic interests
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Learning a new skill like baking
  • Cognitive activities
  • Playing board games like chess
  • Solving crosswords, sudoku, anagrams, and word-search 
  • Solving tests of aptitude and reasoning 
  • Assembling jigsaw puzzles
  • Engaging in interactive online cognitive games aimed towards improving memory, processing speed, attention, visuospatial functioning, verbal fluency, etc.
  • Enrolling in an educational course

It is always good to consider those activities which combine physical, social, and cognitive components as these together help slow down the aging process significantly. For example, joining a dance or aerobics class offers the benefits of social networking, physical activity as well as boosts our memory, problem-solving, and planning abilities. 

Cognitive Retraining for dementia: Later Stage of the Disorder

People in the later stages can also benefit from the above social, recreational, and cognitive exercises as they help withfirst-person some independent functioning and mental wellbeing. To stay motivated it helps to choose those activities which are in line with individual interests. Some of these activities can be accommodated in their everyday schedule:

  • Story-telling 
  • Making personalized photo albums or scrapbooks of memories
  • Learning music and dancing
  • Social participation
  • Doing simple mathematical calculations
  • Reading books
  • Guided imagery activities where they need to visualize a peaceful scene and try to involve all their senses while imagining.

For benefits to show, these activities need to be carried out consistently and in a structured manner. If the activities are difficult to do, then they can be broken down into simpler forms with stepwise instructions to carry them out. This helps to keep up the motivation levels by avoiding tasks that can cause frustration and failure. 

Apart from attempting to boost brain functioning, it is essential to keep the stress levels down as it is known to cause neuronal changes and can cause further damage to an already fragile brain. Meditation and relaxation exercises need to be practiced regularly to keep the anxiety levels in check and also to boost emotional well-being which has a positive impact on the brain. 

If one is at risk for developing dementia as is the case in people with advancing age, genetic history, and medical conditions like stroke, high blood pressure, it helps to start challenging the brain through cognitive exercises at the earliest. There are computerized cognitive training modules and brain training apps available, which are known to improve attention, memory, problem-solving, and other cognitive abilities.

These include cognitive games and exercises delivered through an online mode. However conventional non-computerized methods also are noted to work well with people at risk as well as those having early or late stages of dementia. 

For more help with structured cognitive exercises and adaptive strategies, reaching out to a Neuropsychologist would benefit, who would plan out a customized cognitive stimulation program keeping in mind the cognitive functions and current level of functioning of the person with dementia. This helps immensely with dementia care.

If you or your loved one is at risk for or has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, our team at Cadabam’s are available to offer our guidance and support to help slow down the progression of dementia. 

Dr. Nisha Vidyasagar

Clinical Psychologist

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