Cognitive stimulation and memory care activities for people with dementia

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are global health concerns, made more significant by the statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating the number of people with dementia to be 35.6 million. This number is set to increase by double every 20 years and is predicted to reach 115.4 million by 2050, the numbers are even higher in areas such as Korea where they have a rapidly aging society. The race is on to find treatments, both pharmacological and non-pharmacological, for dementia and dementia related side effects. 

People living with dementia progressively lose cognition, and more than half of those who suffer from it show both behavioural and psychological symptoms. They tend to withdraw from activities, their family and their friends, which only leads to a worsening of the condition and other side effects such as the onset of anxiety and depression. This makes it extremely important to find a combination of non-pharmacological interventions with pharmacotherapy in the pursuit of a holistic treatment of the patient experiencing dementia. 

Fostering an environment in which people with dementia can easily maintain their areas of interest as well as their relationships helps to reduce the effects of memory impairment.  This ultimately leads to better quality of life; one of the most popular non-pharmacological interventions for people with dementia is cognitive stimulation (CS). 

 

Studies suggest cognitive stimulation through memory care activities slows degeneration 

The effectiveness of cognitive stimulation treatments were widely speculated, however a recent study helped to prove (even for a relatively small study) that there were benefits to regular, structured treatments. The study, the Cochrane review, was carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of memory care activities in people with dementia as well as to ascertain if there were any negative effects as well (Woods et al, 2012).

The review included 15 random trials that involved 718 people experiencing mild to moderate dementia. The participants in the study were treated in small groups with varying memory care activities designed to stimulate thinking and memory. In this study they used activities such as group discussions about current and past events, topics that were of interest to the group, word games, puzzles, music, baking, and gardening. The control group received traditional treatments such as medicine, day care, community health worker visits, or alternative activities such as watching TV or physical therapy. 

Those who received cognitive stimulation therapy scored significantly higher in memory function tests when compared to those who did not partake in memory stimulation activities. It was also observed that the benefits of this type of treatment could be seen 1 – 3 months thereafter, as well as an increased participation in social interaction, communication, and an increase in quality of life. It was also noted that no negative side-effects were reported.

Not only has cognitive stimulation been noted to significantly slow down the decline in memory and thinking, but also play a large role in encouraging self-expression and emotional connections with others. Many dementia sufferers struggle to make their emotions heard or to join in on the discussions because their communication skills have begun to decline; memory care activities are designed to promote inclusion and community in non-verbal ways as well. This leads to boosted self-esteem that in turn helps to lessen the anxieties and depression that often go hand in hand with dementia. 

 

Memory care activities promoting cognitive stimulation

Cognitive stimulation involves memory care activities that stimulate general thinking, concentration, and memory. People with mild to moderate dementia are most likely to benefit from this kind of treatment, when coupled with the right medicine. The World Alzheimer Report (Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2011) suggests that Cognitive stimulation should be offered to people with early stage dementia for the best impact early on. While family participation and training in memory care activities is encouraged, it is in the patient’s best interest that it be provided by a range of health and social care staff with the correct training and supervision. 

Treatments are carried out in a social setting of a small group of about four or five people with dementia for around 45 minutes at a time, at least twice a week. The activities are structured and should be tailored to the person’s unique interests as much as possible to maximise their involvement and emotional engagement as well as stir past memories. The AARP.org expresses the importance of creating meaningful memory care activities that do not just full time but include their past interests, just modified for their safety and practicality. 

There are many suggested memory care activities that have had positive results for people with mild to moderate dementia, and these include the following:

 

  1. Baking or cooking in the kitchen by following simple recipes, closely supervised and moderated for their safety. A person with a memory problem will forget that a stove has been switched on and might be hot, or they might have lost some mobility in their hands.
  2. Cleaning and simple home tasks like using a broom, wiping surfaces, folding towels or other simple tasks that are easy to do and can be completed thereby giving the person with dementia a sense of accomplishment.
  3. Arts and crafts, which include knitting or painting as long as the patterns and tools are simple enough. Completing a project can take weeks for a person with dementia, so the smaller and simpler the project the more rewarding it will be for them.
  4. Browse a library and books on topics that person used to enjoy, try and engage them on the storyline to see if it jogs their memory or look at illustrations and photos inside the books. Having them remember something on their own or recounting a story from their past will bring them great satisfaction and help their recall skills.
  5. Organisational tasks like stacking, packing, or dividing items based on categories will be ideal for someone who takes pleasure in organisation. This can be simple tasks like separating cutlery or organising office items.
  6. Read the newspaper with them, it will help them feel like part of the current world and give them more to talk about in social settings. It is easy to feel lonely when you have dementia, and loneliness and the inability to communicate can be big precursors to anxiety and depression.
  7. Music therapy is a popular activity as people with dementia respond well to it. Singing songs, listening to music, and dancing are all great ways to encourage participation and it is suitable for people at different progressions of dementia. 
  8. Gardening is a hobby that many elderly people enjoy, and it can bring feelings of relaxation and joy to someone with dementia. Even visiting a botanical garden will bring great pleasure. 
  9. Watch family videos to evoke old memories and help foster an emotional connection to their family. 
  10. Work on puzzles such as jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, and other simple games. This stimulation keeps their minds busy with constructive thoughts and helps to keep anxiety at bay. It is also a social activity and encourages being with others. 

 

Cognitive stimulation treatment in Dementia care facilities 

Unfortunately there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, so if you are looking for the best course of action for a loved one that has been diagnosed with a memory illness then a dementia care facility that offers cognitive stimulation coupled with round the clock care would be ideal. Many family members feel guilty about the decision to move their loved one to a dementia care facility, however it has been proven that specialised memory care treatments really do make a difference to a dementia sufferer. Trying to replicate this at home in a home-care situation is often impossible or extremely challenging, and can cause a lot of strain on one person or family. 

Dementia care facilities that specialise in treatment for loved ones with dementia, such as Livewell Villages, offer both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment for dementia and dementia related side effects. At Livewell Village there is a range of over 30 memory care activities that include arts and crafts, sports and exercise, yoga, baking, musical experiences, drumming, excursions to local landmarks, gardening, croquet, bowling, woodwork and electrical, golf, and other games. All our programmes ensure a memory-care focused lifestyle by actively engaging with the individual needs of our residents and addressing their unique requirements.

Loved ones are taken care of by highly trained staff that specialise in dementia and memory care and are available 24/7. Your loved one’s quality of life, dignity, and well-being will be well taken care of; they will receive tailored care as they are actively engaged in a cognitive focused lifestyle at Livewell Villages. If you would like to find out more about our Villages or even our activities program, please contact us. Your loved one can join us for dementia day care, where they can participate in the many activities we offer.

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Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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