The last decades of research have shed light on many hitherto unknown aspects of the brain: today we know that it is a plastic organ, that its structure can change if we train certain skills and that it possesses a fundamental cognitive reserve in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases. Thanks to these discoveries, today we can resort to some exercises useful for cognitive stimulation.
Let’s start by making an important distinction between stimulation, rehabilitation and cognitive training.
- The cognitive stimulation encompasses all interventions involving activities that aim to slow cognitive impairment.
- Rehabilitation, on the other hand, includes exercises designed to restore impaired cognitive functions. This damage can result from a variety of causes, such as trauma, mild cognitive impairment, or depression.
- Cognitive training includes a set of exercises that aim to optimize or maintain cognitive performance. It is a great way to prevent future deterioration due to old age and improve your cognitive reserve.
These three ways of working on cognitive functions are part of a non-drug intervention. It has been shown that, by applying these strategies, the patient obtains important benefits, which result in an improvement in his abilities or in a slowing of the loss of cognitive skills.
According to Jara (2007), the elderly adult, suffering from some form of cognitive impairment, can benefit from interventions in which these strategies are applied, because they lead to an improvement in the quality of life.
Why is cognitive stimulation important?
Cognitive stimulation, as Villalba and Espert (2014) observe, offers many benefits. One above all: it does not produce side effects and does not interact with drugs.
Furthermore, it facilitates personal contact with the therapist and with other people, an aspect that positively influences the patient’s behavior, improving his skills. It is also an activity that helps to exercise the skills already established, teaching the patient how to make the most of the resources he is equipped with.
Finally, it is important to point out that cognitive stimulation may be a cheaper alternative to other therapies.
Now that we have clarified the terminology, let’s see some simple exercises you can do at home that will offer you very positive results.
Exercises for cognitive stimulation
The list of exercises is extensive and there are all kinds. We can start from the classic exercise books, which help to improve attention, memory and calculation, up to brain training exercises, or braintraining, through the use of new information and communication technologies.
Memory-centered cognitive stimulation
- Pictures and photographs. With these elements we can work on short-term memory. First, we need to look at the image carefully and, after a few minutes, try to remember the details that appear in the photo.
- Another traditional game, such as matching the tiles after shuffling them ( Memory ), is a valuable aid to train the memory.
- Finally, you can train this ability by remembering the words read by another person. There are many ready-made lists, but if you don’t like them, you can make your own list.
Activities to improve attention
- To train attention at home, you can use reading. Cognitive stimulation through reading is valid both when we are reading alone and when someone else is reading aloud to us. Once we have read the text, we will answer a few questions and try to remember specific details that help train this function.
- As with memory, also in this case we can work with images. This time we will focus on the more concrete details.
- This skill can be trained in different ways. One of them is to sort a series of assigned numbers, from major to minor or vice versa.
- You can train with mental arithmetic. You have to start with simpler operations and, step by step, increase the level of difficulty.
- Similarly, as is done in some monitoring tests, we can train this function by giving a high starting figure and ask the patient to subtract a concrete number. For example, let’s start with 27 and try to subtract, 3 by 3.
Cognitive stimulation activity for orientation
In this case, it is important to work orientation in the three spheres: time, space and social circle. Loss of orientation is one of the most worrying aspects when you begin to notice a process of cognitive deterioration. To train this skill, we can work by answering the following daily questions:
- What day of the week, number, month and year is it today?
- What season are we in?
- Time of day and activities we need to do (for example, morning-breakfast).
- Date of birth and age.
- Where are we? In what city, country, street …
- What is my name and what is the name of my companion?
This work will be all the more effective the more it is integrated into daily life. For example, we can make lists to remember the names of kings, but it will always be better to train with the shopping list. There are an infinity of exercises that we can do with daily elements and activities.
On the other hand, the specialists are there to help us. We can read books, articles and experiment, but ultimately they will be the ones to offer us the most valuable help. They will advise us on how to organize the work, set goals and choose the tools or exercises that best suit our case.
But above all, it is important to remain motivated, because the results of these interventions are manifested in the medium to long term.