People with dementia and their caregivers are often advised that ‘mental exercise’ may be helpful in slowing down the decline in memory and thinking experienced by many people with dementia. This review examined the evidence for one form of mental exercise, described as cognitive stimulation. This involves a wide range of activities that aim to stimulate thinking and memory generally, including discussion of past and present events and topics of interest, word games, puzzles, music and practical activities such as baking or indoor gardening. Typically this is carried out by trained staff with a small group of four or five people with dementia for around 45 minutes at least twice a week. Family caregivers have also been trained to provide cognitive stimulation to their relative on a one-to-one basis.
This review included 15 trials with a total of 718 participants. The findings suggested that cognitive stimulation has a beneficial effect on the memory and thinking test scores of people with dementia. Although based on a smaller number of studies, there was evidence that the people with dementia who took part reported improved quality of life. They were reported to communicate and interact better than previously. No evidence was found of improvements in the mood of participants or their ability to care for themselves or function independently, and there was no reduction in behaviour found difficult by staff or caregivers. Family caregivers, including those who were trained to deliver the intervention, did not report increased levels of strain or burden.
The trials included people in the mild to moderate stages of dementia and the intervention does not appear to be appropriate for people with severe dementia. More research is needed to find out how long the effects of cognitive stimulation last and for how long it is beneficial to continue the stimulation. Involving family caregivers in the delivery of cognitive stimulation is an interesting development and merits further evaluation.
SOURCE: Bob Woods, Elisa Aguirre, Aimee E Spector, Martin Orrell. Cognitive stimulation to improve cognitive functioning in people with dementia