Adult performing cognitive stimulation exercises
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25 cognitive stimulation activities for elderly, seniors and adults
More and more adults are concerned with their health and exercise regularly but… do they also worry about mental health? Cognitive stimulation is a fundamental strategy for the improvement and rehabilitation of cognitive capabilities, and included within non-pharmacological treatments. Do you want to know more about these techniques and exercises available for adults, seniors and the elderly? Let’s start.

What is cognitive stimulation?

Cognitive stimulation refers to a set of techniques and strategies that are directed to improve performance and efficacy of cognitive capabilities and executive functions such as working memory, attention, language, reasoning and planning, among others. More concretely, cognitive stimulation is oriented towards the improvement of cognitive functionality. 

The preserved cognitive capabilities and abilities are  stimulated and trained through the potentiation of neuroplasticity, which is understood as the capability of the nervous system to change its structure and functionality throughout the course of life, as reaction and adaptation to the diversity of the surroundings.

However, for adults and seniors that suffer from neurodegenerative pathologies or illnesses that include slight cognitive deterioration (such as depression and fibromyalgia) it is advisable to carry out cognitive rehabilitation directed to recover those cognitive capabilities that have suffered decline or deficit. The objective is always to reestablish the correct cognitive functionality that was affected by memory or attention losses.

What cognitive capabilities can be improved in older adults? 

There are several cognitive capabilities and executive functions that adults can work on and strengthen to maintain optimal performance. Some of the most important capabilities are:

  • Attention: capability of generating, processing, directing and maintaining an adequate activation level to process relevant information.

  • Perception: codes and coordinates the different elemental sensations to provide them with meaning.

  • Memory: registers, stores and elicits the different experiences, which could be ideas, images, events, etc.

  • Processing speed: capability that establishes the relationship between cognitive execution and invested time. Enables fast and automatic information processing.

  • Reasoning: capability to solve problems, extract conclusions and learn consciously from events, in such a way that we can establish causal and logical relationships.

infographic cognitive capabilities

What type of older people can work on their cognitive skills?

Older adults include seniors (over 65 years old, independent) and the elderly (also over 65 years old, but frail and dependent). Adults and older adults with different profiles can benefit from mental capacity training through different techniques and programs for cognitive stimulation. The difference lies in the objective that each professional or person establishes, for example:

  • Healthy adults and older adults: in this case, cognitive stimulation training is directed to maintain their cognitive capabilities at good levels and foster active and healthy aging (click here for more information on cognitive stimulation in adults, seniors and the elderly).

  • Adults with mental pathologies: due to different life experiences, it is common to find people affected by depression, fibromyalgia, mild Alzheimer disease, anxiety or some pathology that includes cognitive deterioration (more information on cognitive rehabilitation for depression and ADHD). In these cases cognitive rehabilitation is oriented to recovering those capabilities that have suffered mild decline or deterioration, and for people that start to manifest the first signs of dementia, with the objective of slowing down this deterioration (more information on dementia and its cognitive rehabilitation).

  • Senior executives, judges, athletes and other professionals: adults that are submitted to high professional demands can use cognitive training to improve and strengthen their cognitive capabilities, improving their professional performance (more information on high cognitive performance).

What are the different types of cognitive stimulation activities for older adults?

Nowadays there is a variety of techniques and programs for cognitive stimulation of adults, to work on those cognitive capabilities and executive functions that each person wishes to improve or recover. There are more traditional techniques such as cognitive stimulation exercise workbooks and more dynamic techniques such as brain training games for seniors and online programs, both oriented to improve and strengthen cognitive capabilities. There are also techniques directed to improve the functionality of brain areas responsible for cognitive capabilities, as is the case of neurotechnology. 

Cognitive stimulation exercise workbooks:

Classical cognitive stimulation, based on pencil and paper,  that adults can utilize to train their executive functions and cognitive capabilities such as memory, attention, orientation, reasoning, problem solving, etc. 

It is available in different levels of difficulty so that, in function of the cognitive development level presented, can be carried out by younger adults, adults, or even older adults. Some popular links are presented next.

Some of these exercise workbooks can be downloaded for free from the internet, such as the Esteve cognitive stimulation exercise workbooks and the Cognitive stimulation exercise workbooks to strengthen memory from the Consorci Sanitari Integral (CSI)l (CSI). There are also the Cognitive stimulation workbooks from Rubio, which can be purchased in stores and on the internet.

Brain Training games:

Nowadays, practically anyone can access mobile applications for cell phones, tablets and computers, which can be used for cognitive stimulation exercises anywhere, anytime. Usually the level of complexity can be adjusted to work on different cognitive capabilities and executive functions such as attention, reasoning, language and memory. 

Specific capability training is available from some applications, while others provide random multiple capability training. These applications also enable the customization of training in function of the objectives established by the users, and create a ranking with the scores of everyone that use the application. Some of these downloadable brain training games are Lumosity, Elevate brain Training, NeuroNation, Fit Brains Trainer, Peak, among others.

Online platforms for cognitive stimulation exercises: 

If adults are searching for integral interventions that complement cognitive stimulation with other techniques and strategies to strengthen other areas, online programs are available, usually employed by professionals. These programs, such as NeuronUP, Kwido and Mementia (app launched by Kwido), usually exercise basic cognitive functions, daily life activities and social abilities, and offer the possibility of providing the professional with real time information on the evolution of the general cognitive index, emotional state, self-assessment, etc.

Neurotechnology for cognitive stimulation: 

Recently new paradigms are being employed to produce neuroplastic changes in brain areas related to cognitive performance, to optimize functionality. New technologies are used to record the brain activity of each person, adapting the necessary interventions (individualization) to produce the desired changes in brain neuroplasticity, which are related to rehabilitation and improvement of cognitive capabilities such as attention, memory and processing speed. 

Among these new technologies, Elevvo can be cited, which is a neurotechnology for cognitive improvement developed by Bitbrain. This tool carries out a series of simple trainings to exercise cognitive capabilities and executive functions such as memory, attention, concentration, reasoning, decision making, etc. and enables the evaluation of the cognitive process and also the brain changes that support cognitive level improvement. This technology is adapted to medical contexts, to wellness and older adults , and to high performance environments, being therefore applicable to a wide range of adult profiles.

What are the available activities and exercises for cognitive stimulation of adults?

Adults and older adults can benefit from a variety of exercises and activities for cognitive stimulation, as those aforementioned. Besides, a single exercise can work on more than one cognitive ability and the same ability can be strengthened by more than one exercise, resulting in a broad range of possibilities. Some of the most popular cognitive stimulation exercises are:

  • Exercises for attention: the exercises directed to improving attention are based on different activities that have the objective of strengthening 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 provided and the person must remember the numbers in the same order, and in the inverse order. The length of the sequence progressively increases.

    • The person must identify the X differences between two images that apparently are the same.

  • Perception exercises: 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:

    • 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.

  • Memory exercises: 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:

    • A set of cards is constituted by matching pairs. After shuffling the cards and distributing them, face down, on a table, the person must pick up two cards and check whether they match. If so, they are removed from the game. If not, they are placed back on the table 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.

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  • Processing speed exercises: 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.

    • Two symbols are presented and the person must decide, as fast as possible, if at least one of them is included within a group.

  • Reasoning exercises: 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 word is provided and the person is instructed to find a related word. For example, pears related to apples and dogs relate to…….

    • 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

Activities such as arts and crafts, card games, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles are not only helpful mind stimulating techniques which could reduce the risk of early cognitive deterioration, but very popular and engaging. Higher awareness on mental healthcare has generated an increase in the demand for tools and strategies that aim at maintaining and improving the cognitive capabilities of older adults. Cognitive stimulation activities for seniors have definitely become a key tools in the promotion of mental health.

Wellness and personal satisfaction are reinforced as a consequence of keeping mentally and physically active while also considering other personal areas such emotional control and management, and social activity in interpersonal relationships. Instilling these values regarding mental health since tender ages can result in better quality of life, delaying or slowing down age-related cognitive deterioration

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Infographic cognitive capabilities PDF