Looking for the best cognitive exercises for dementia patients?
Unfortunately there is no cure for dementia, but there are many incredibly effective exercises known to help combat it. As we age, our memory often declines, and for those with dementia, it can decline quite rapidly. But with the right care and the proper physical and cognitive exercises, the progression of dementia can be slowed while improving quality of life!
How Are Cognitive Functions Affected by Dementia?
Dementia has a very significant impact on an individual’s cognitive ability. Dementia does not only affect memory but also the ability to think and reason. It can also get severe enough to where basic daily tasks like getting dressed or bathing require assistance.
There are seven stages of dementia progression that inevitably lead to an individual requiring 24-hour care. But in the stage leading up to that, there is an excellent opportunity to do some of these exercises and therapies that can help your loved one maintain some semblance of independence and hang on to their cognitive ability a little longer.
The seven primary stages of dementia are:
- No cognitive decline
- Very mild cognitive decline
- Mild cognitive decline
- Moderate cognitive decline
- Moderately severe cognitive decline
- Severe cognitive decline
- Very severe cognitive decline
Even if an individual is not in the throes of dementia, these exercises can be great therapy for anyone worried about facing cognitive decline as they age.
The Best, Most Effective Exercises for Memory and Cognition
Our brains are complex and mysterious organs that allow us to do incredible things like walking, talking, and thinking. They can also betray us as we age and forget things or face physical and mental challenges. It doesn’t have to happen so quickly.
It’s vital that everyone, with dementia or not, takes time to exercise their brain at least once a day. And it doesn’t have to be boring—it should be fun, especially for people with dementia. Here are some of the best cognitive exercises to enforce our memory and fight dementia.
Art therapy can be beneficial for both brain and physical therapy. Many times people with dementia cannot verbally communicate their thoughts and feelings. But through art, they can often express themselves in a way that is both cathartic and insightful for caregivers and loved ones.
There are many different ways to do art therapy. Some people prefer painting, while others enjoy sculpting or drawing. There is no wrong way to use art as a form of therapy, but here are some options:
- Painting with brushes
- Finger painting
- Drawing or sketching with pencils or crayons
- Taking photos or looking at photos
- Scrapbooking with photos of their family
- Watching TV or movies from when they were young
- Recycling old magazines and newspapers into collages
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for what will work best for each individual with dementia. But as a general rule, anything that encourages creativity and reminiscing can be incredibly beneficial.
Be mindful of people who showcase aggressive behavior or have OCD tendencies. They can get frustrated during art projects or uncomfortable with the mess. You could use crayons over paint in those cases and always use child-safe scissors and glue.
We genuinely believe that music has a direct link to our souls. Music can bring up old memories, emit emotions, and boost mood by singing or dancing along. Listening to music also releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which can boost mood and help combat psychiatric issues like anxiety and depression, which are often a symptom of dementia.Music therapy for dementia patients could include:
- Listening to old records from their time
- Having the radio on quietly throughout the day
- Playing soft music to help them sleep
- Inviting musical performers to the memory care facility
- Host sing-a-longs every weekend where residents can hum along or just observe
Patients with dementia often require a hands-on approach to therapy. As they lose their memory and cognitive abilities, leaning into their senses, like smell and touch, can help trigger those memories with hands-on activities.
Also, as we age, we can suffer from arthritis and lose flexibility in our hands. So exercises that work those muscles can help alleviate pain and increase motion. Hands-on activities that can prove very therapeutic might be:
- Hand stretches
- Putting together legos or buildings blocks
- Sorting laundry or doing small chores so they can feel accomplished
- Walking around a garden, feeling the different textures of plants
- Making a quilt or blanket
- Playing catch with a soft nerf ball
- Preparing and serving food
- Playing with sand or modeling clay
- Having a stuffed animal for them to hold and pet
Puzzles, especially jigsaw puzzles, are an excellent brain game for anyone, especially those in the earlier stages of dementia. Brain puzzles can be a fun way to pass the time and continue exercising the brain every day with minimal expertise required.
Some good puzzles that have proven effective in dementia therapy include, but aren’t limited to:
- The “memory game” where cards are flipped upside down and then two at a time are flipped over to try and find their match
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Crosswords and word searches
- Problem-solving puzzles
Games can be fun as much as they are therapeutic. People with dementia might miss the days when they would play games with friends or family, so this can be a fun way to trigger those memories and support their memory and cognitive function by giving them something they need to learn and remember to play. You could start easy with some children’s games and work your way up, or the other way around if dementia progresses over time.
- Go Fish
- Sequencing games like “Simon Says”
- Chess or checkers
- “I Spy”
- Hungry Hungry Hippos, Trouble, or other simple board games
- Memory games with cards or pictures
- Poker, gin rummy, or other card games they remember playing
Socialization is a huge part of dementia therapy. Because many dementia patients go from having a home with a partner or loved ones into a room by themselves or with a roommate, they can get quite lonely. And loneliness can be a major trigger for anxiety and depression.
It’s vital that senior living communities, retirement homes, nursing homes, memory care facilities, etc., put socializing activity as a priority for residents. A calendar of events can be a good way to keep a consistent schedule of ongoing socialization among the patients. Some examples of fun and therapeutic social activities would be:
- Alcohol-free happy hours with mocktails and social time
- Movie nights
- Live music or performances
- Craft days
- Cooking classes
- Scavenger hunts
- Puppet shows
- Themed parties (70s party, beach party, etc.)
- Family days outside of regular visitations
There are many different ways to provide cognitive and memory exercises for dementia patients. What’s important is that you find the ones that work best for each patient and have an ongoing schedule of activities.
Physical exercise can help in all aspects of cognitive abilities and therapy. If your body isn’t healthy, your mind can’t be healthy. Older individuals might not have the physical ability or strength to do the hard stuff, but low-impact exercises can make them feel good and look good. Plus, it can be a fun socializing experience.
Some safe and easy exercises for people with dementia might be:
- Water aerobics
- Going for walks
- Stretch band exercises
- Using very light weights
Getting the heart rate up even for a little bit every day is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Physical exercise can help boost mood, improve organ function, maintain weight, and even boost brain health. The vital chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine from exercise can be incredibly therapeutic for anyone dealing with dementia.
Where Can One Receive These Cognitive Therapies?
Physical and occupational therapists would be the best source of incorporating these cognitive exercises and activities into someone’s regular regimen and treatment for dementia. But most memory care facilities also offer these types of services, including Sunflower Communities.
Our comprehensive programs for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients offer these activities and more as a form of therapy and treatment for this awful disease.
Our excellent staff is trained to treat dementia patients with kindness, care, and patience. Your loved ones will get the cognitive therapy they deserve in our community. Reach out today for more information!