Specific pathologies, aging or some inadequate life habits can deteriorate cognitive functionality. However, there are cognitive stimulation techniques that help us prevent this deterioration and even improve our attention, memory, reasoning and comprehension, among other mental capabilities. This post summarizes the specific types of cognitive stimulation exercises for attention, perception and memory, among others, with examples of materials and worksheets. Do you want to know more?
Types of cognitive stimulation activities and techniques
Cognitive stimulation refers to the set of techniques, strategies and materials to improve performance and effectiveness of cognitive capabilities and executive functions such as memory, attention, language, reasoning and planning, among others. Nowadays there are several strategies to train our brain, from classical exercise workbooks to more dynamic, innovative techniques such as brain training games and neurotechnology.
Regarding the cognitive stimulation exercise workbooks, these are very useful to work on executive functions and cognitive capabilities such as memory, attention, orientation, reasoning, problem solving, etc. They are easily found in bookstores and can be even downloaded from the internet. Usually these workbooks are available in different difficulty levels so they can be solved by any person that wishes to strengthen their mental capabilities.
Another cognitive stimulation activity includes the well-known train training games. These applications, available for cell phones, computers and tablets, can be used anytime, anywhere. There is also usually the possibility of adjusting the difficulty level to each person’s level. Some of these training games that can be downloaded are Lumosity, Elevate brain Training, NeuroNation, Fit Brains Trainer, Peak, emong others. Although broadly utilized as strategies to train the brain, there is still insufficient evidence on the transference of the learnings to cognitively closer tasks and daily life activities.
Neurotechnology is another cognitive stimulation technique that has been attracting attention. These new technologies, based on advanced EEG equipment, record the brain activity of each person and adapt, to each individual, the necessary interventions to produce changes in brain neuroplasticity. These changes are related to cognitive performance in cognitive capabilities such as attention, memory and processing speed. The Elevvo device, developed by the Bitbrain neurotechnology company, is a scientifically validated example.
It is important to highlight that, for cognitive stimulation to be effective, it is important that it adapts to the cognitive and potential levels of each person, Challenging exercises and activities should be carried out to promote motivation and maintain interest. In this way, self-efficacy is increased, a better state of mind is achieved, increasing the probability of successful interventions.
Types of cognitive stimulation exercises
Currently there is a wide variety of materials for cognitive stimulation that work on the different cognitive capabilities and executive functions, in a general manner or targeting a specific capability. However, usually the same exercise trains more than one cognitive capability and the same capability can be trained by more than one exercise.
Generally, the cognitive stimulation exercises approach the following cognitive capabilities:
Firstly, we will focus on the exercises based on workbooks and materials for cognitive stimulation, with examples of materials.
Exercises and activities to enhance attention
The exercises directed to improve attention are based on different activities that have the objective of potentializing the different variations of attention, such as sustained attention, selective attention, visual or auditory attention, among others. Some of the most frequent exercises are:
- A sequence of numbers is given orally and the person must remember them in the same order and in inverse order. The length of the sequences increases progressively.
- The person reads a fragment of text and then answers some questions about it. Difficulty can range from generic questions to concrete details and data.
- A drawing is observed and then must be reproduced exactly.
- A list of words is presented and the person has a specific time interval to study them. Then two different tasks can be accomplished: firstly indicate within a second list of words, which of these were contained in the first list, and secondly, reproduce all words in the list.
Exercises and activities to enhance perception
Perception exercises, either visual, auditory or tactile, help improve and develop this capability in a dynamic and entertaining manner. Some of the most common activities are:
- A model image is presented along with others that represent the same object but with minimal size variations. The person must identify the one corresponds exactly to the model.
- The person sees somebody else carrying out a sequence of beats in a melodic manner. Then hears different sound sequences. The person must identify which sound corresponds with the beats executed previously.
- A screen displays a symbol during a short period of time. Then a set of symbols is shown and the person must indicate which symbol was previously displayed.
- A screen displays a set of objects that the person will have to identify after, within a larger group of objects. In this case the objects are included within other distracting factors, which are in movement, and therefore the task consists in clicking on the previously shown objects.
Exercises and activities to improve comprehension
Comprehension is one of the basic cognitive capabilities that is closely related to other abilities, and therefore its exercise and development can improve this and other cognitive functions. Some of the exercises include:
- Reading a text and then answer some questions on it.
- A series of orders are given, and then it is verified whether the actions correspond with the orders issued.
- A word is presented.The person must then select a word, from several options of words, that best fits the word presented initially.
- Riddle solving.
Exercises and activities to enhance memory
Memory is one of the first cognitive capabilities to start deteriorating as a consequence of age, and to counterbalance this deterioration it is important to keep the mind active and carry out different exercises, such as:
- An image is shown and then questions are asked to confirm some details of the image.
- A set of cards is constituted by matching pairs. After shuffling the cards and distributing them, face down, on a flat surface, the person must pick up two cards and check whether they match. If so, they are removed from the game. If not, they are replaced and the person tries again.
- The person reads a list of words. After a specific time period, the person tries to remember as much words as possible.
- Ten or twelve cards are chosen from a deck and placed face down on a table. For a few minutes, they are turned and can be observed. Then the cards are turned back and the person must pick them up in ascending order, in function of the card’s value.
Language exercises and activities
Language is a fundamental cognitive capability for people to communicate with each other and therefore, it should be developed since early ages. Some of the activities that can be carried out are:
- Writing synonyms and antonyms for a series of words.
- A series of orders is given, in increasing complexity, and the person must execute them exactly.
- A word is given, constituted of specific letters. The person must generate new words by recombining these letters.
- A sequence of words is presented, out of order. The person must order the words to form a grammatically correct sentence.
Exercises and activities for processing speed
Processing speed refers to the capability that established the relationship between cognitive information and invested time. Exercising it will help process information faster, without losing efficacy and improving performance. Some of the most common exercises include:
- The person is instructed to indicate which symbols match the one previously shown, as fast as possible and with the least mistakes.
- The computer screen displays images, and the person must click and select the most images as possible in a specific time interval.
- Two symbols are presented and the person must decide, as fast as possible, if at least one of them is included within a group.
- A “model” geometric shape is presented. The person must identify, in a specific time interval, the images that match the model (in shape and color).
Orientation exercises and activities
Orientation is one of the cognitive functions in which both early-age children and the elderly present problems and difficulties. Orientation can be exercised dynamically through a series of exercises such as:
- A text is read and then questions are asked. These questions refer to events that took place within the story, and help identify which of them occurred first or after, in what moment of the day, where, etc.
- The person is placed in an unfamiliar location and a map is given. The person must follow a specific path utilizing only the map.
- The person sees a model performing a series of movements. Then the person must repeat these movements in front of a mirror, utilizing the correct extremities and towards the correct side.
- A graph sheet is provided, with X rows and X columns, in which some of the boxes present geometric shapes with a specific orientation. The person must copy, in a blank graph sheet, the different geometric figures exactly as depicted (same boxes and shape orientation).
Reasoning is one of the superior cognitive functions that helps us think and make decisions in the face of stimuli, events and situations. The different existing exercises work on different aspects of reasoning, such as numerical, logical and abstract reasoning:
- A group of words is presented and the person must indicate which one is unrelated to the group.
- A word is provided and the person is instructed to find a related word. For example, pears related to apples and dogs relate to …….
- A problem is proposed, in which different relationships are established within a group of people. The person must answer questions in which the answers must be deduced from the information given.
- The person must solve a series of mathematical equations that are related. The mathematical symbols of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing are shown and the person must fill in the blanks to obtain the correct answer.
The exercises that work on praxis are based on different activities to improve coordination and organization of movements that enable the adequate execution of actions. For such, the different variations of praxis can be trained (facial, ideomotor, visuoconstructive and ideational) with exercises such as:
- Drawing images that are more exact and adjusted to reality.
- Cut-out figures following a series of dots and then comparing whether the cut-out adjusts with the same figure printed on paper.
- Oral instructions are given, which must be reproduced in mimics.
- Complex figures are presented along with incomplete figures. It is asked to add the details and elements to the incomplete figures, so that they match the more complex ones.
Gnosia helps us identify and recognize information that has been previously learned, and it is important to train this capability to avoid investing more resources than necessary in its recognition. Some of the exercises employed to exercise gnosia include:
- Pictures of objects and places are presented, with different complexity levels. Then other pictures are shown, which show the same objects and places, but from different perspectives. The person must indicate which correspond with the same object and place and which don’t.
- The person is placed facing backwards a group of instruments and objects. Sounds are made and the person must identify the origin.
- The person is blindfolded and can only use touch to identify and recognize a group of objects.
- The person is blindfolded and can only use smell to identify a group of foods.
Exercising executive control
The exercises directed to executive control are based on activities that enable its improvement and reinforcement since early ages. As this is one of the essential cognitive capabilities, it is responsible for regulating other functions. Some of the exercises employed to train the executive control are:
- A list of words is presented, in pairs. The person must indicate the relationship between the pairs, what they have in common or what distinguishes them.
- A series of elements is provided and the person must indicate which is the next element, following the logical sequence.
- A series of situations are presented, which could be found in the real world. The person is asked to explain what would be their reaction and why.
- The person is given a series of actions, either visually through a series of visual cues or verbally through written instructions. The person must read them thoroughly and order them in an adequate sequence of actions.
Calculation is one of the cognitive capabilities that, if not exercised, loses agility and flow. There are different practical exercises that can help prevent this loss, enabling training and improvement. Some examples are:
- A list of numbers is given and then different instructions require the person to, for example, order the even numbers from lowest to highest, order from highest to lowest the number over XXX, etc.
- The person must subtract 7 from the number 300, sequentially. It must be done mentally and trying to commit the least mistakes in the least time possible.
- A list is presented, with amounts written out in words and in numbers. The person must transcribe these amounts in the opposite manner as they are presented, which means that a number must be written out and vice versa.
- A series of mathematical problems must be solved with the information provided in the problem statement.
In the following links, you can find practical examples of exercises for the different cognitive capabilities: Esteve workbooks, mild Alzheimer’s workbooks, and cognitive stimulation worksheets.
Nowadays there are numerous techniques, strategies and tools to help slow down age-related cognitive decline and deterioration, and maintain functionality and autonomy, improving the quality of life of people. Nevertheless, there are many other causes of cognitive deterioration that affect good performance of capabilities. In this case, specific strategies such as cognitive rehabilitation should be put in place to re-train those abilities that are affected.
Many people still think that cognitive stimulation exercises are necessarily directed to people who suffer from pathologies related to memory problems or attention disorders (or any other pathology that causes cognitive deterioration - more information on cognitive rehabilitation for ADHD, depression and dementia). But also healthy people of all ages can work and utilize different strategies to improve and boost their cognitive capabilities and executive functions. Optimal performance can be obtained, improving wellbeing and quality of life. You can read more on cognitive stimulation from children and adolescents, for adults, seniors and the elderly, or for high cognitive performance.
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