The brain might not be a muscle, but it responds to training the same way the muscles in your body do when you lift weights at the gym.
If a senior in your life is suffering from dementia and losing more and more of their memory with each passing day, it doesn’t hurt to try some brain exercises (with the permission of their doctor, of course). Which exercises are recommended?
Here are some brain exercises for dementia patients:
- Try a memory matching game
- Do a puzzle
- Fill out a crossword
- Play Sudoku
If you’re looking for more suggestions on which brain exercises are best for dementia patients, you’ve come to the right place.
Whether it’s your senior parent, a grandparent, or another loved one who’s going through cognitive decline or dementia, these exercises create great bonding opportunities.
Let’s get started!
Can Brain Exercises Help Dementia?
Among seniors, there’s a theory of “use it or lose it,” which means that by abandoning skills or abilities through inactivity, those skills could disappear. This report from Today’s Geriatric Medicine discussed the very concept.
According to the report, “recent advances in brain science have provided clear evidence that the brain continuously shrinks and expands depending on our experiences.”
The Alzheimer’s Society, a UK organization, also confirms what Today’s Geriatric Medicine found.
Their research shows that brain training and other areas of cognitive training can benefit the cognitive function and memory abilities of older adults. The organization defines brain training as games like “bespoke computer games,” Sudoku, and crossword puzzles.
However, the Alzheimer’s Society is clear that while these games can be a great way to help boost cognitive health in those who already have dementia or Alzheimer’s, playing brain games and mental exercises alone cannot prevent memory loss or the onset of these diseases.
In fact, an article in Today’s Geriatric Medicine talked about how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has “issued a warning that the surge in brain-training sessions and games has resulted in fraudulent claims that have ‘preyed on consumers’ fears.’”
Check out our Activity Calendar For Seniors With Dementia article for some ideas on stimulating and engaging activities to do with your loved one.
What Are Some Brain Stimulating Activities?
Although the Today’s Geriatric Medicine research concluded that “little scientific evidence exists to support the benefit of…the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy more generally,” stimulating the brain is still good for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients alike.
Mental stimulation simply means doing an activity that engages one’s attention. Here are some of our favorites.
Get Regular Exercise
Although regular physical exercise is more about the health benefits of training the body than the mind, your brain still needs to work to ensure you can do the moves properly. In addition, doing an aerobic exercise like walking several times a week is an easy way to increase muscle mass and blood flow throughout the body.
The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK reports that regular physical activity has a positive impact on cognitive performance and reduces of vascular dementia and overall dementia risk – even if started in later life. Recent studies show that exercise enhances aging brains.
Exercise for a senior shouldn’t be overly strenuous. Perhaps you two go on a 30-minute walk together. During the walk, have a conversation with the dementia patient to keep their brain active. You can even bring your dog along!
Gardening, if it’s vigorous enough, absolutely counts as exercise. Your senior will have to use their brain to stay on-task and remember which plants they’re tending to and what kind of care each plant needs.
Chair yoga is a low-impact physical activity that older seniors or those with physical ailments should be able to handle. If your dementia patient is more active, then standing yoga sessions are appropriate. Tai chi is another good activity for older adults.
Learn A New Skill Or a New Language
The world is your senior’s oyster. In the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, committing to learning a new ability, language or skill will light up synapses of your dementia patient’s brain that might have been inactive for awhile.
Older people can sign up to learn new things through an online course or they can have an instructor come to the house. If they aren’t computer-savvy, family members can help them complete the task.
What the skill or hobby is doesn’t matter as much as picking up something new. Perhaps the senior learns another language or how to play a musical instrument or even how to take photos.
Dancing is so joyful, and it’s something we should all really do more of, older adults included. Ask your senior parent or grandparent to dance with you. Put music on from their time and see if they remember the song. If they do, they’ll probably have a flood of memories come rushing back. Let them talk through everything and enjoy the experience for what it is!
What Games Are Good For Dementia Patients?
The next time you’re visiting with a senior parent or loved one who has dementia, you can liven up the day with some games. No, not video games, but an assortment of board games and other types of games that can kick start the mind and keep it active for the duration of play.
Seniors and bingo go together like peanut butter and jelly, and there’s a reason for that. Bingo is a rather passive game that anyone can play. The senior has to pay attention, listening to the number that’s called out. They also have to remember what is marked on their own bingo card so that if they get bingo, they can shout it out first and win the game.
If your senior loved one has enjoyed playing solitaire I would encourage you to encourage them to continue it. Whether it’s with playing cards or an online game like this one. This would be something to do in the early stages of the disease.
Picture Matching Game
Memory exercises, like the classic picture matching game, are good to play with dementia patients too. Let your senior see all the cards for a moment, then flip them over face-down. They have to match the image pairs using their memory.
To trigger deeper thinking and strategizing, chess is a great game to play with your dementia patient. Healthline states that the game of chess can boost one’s self-awareness, planning, creativity, focus, intelligence, memory, and perspective.
If you have a senior in your life who’s at risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s a good idea to play chess with them as soon as you can. An International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study from 2019 reported that chess might play a role in reducing the development of these diseases.
If your senior parent or loved one is more mathematical, they can always play Sudoku. The 9×9 grid requires you to add numbers (1 through 9) on all the squares, columns, and rows, so 9 spaces per grid. None of the numbers can repeat within the game square, column, or row.
Sudoku can be a complicated game, but it will certainly get your dementia patient thinking. To make Sudoku even easier, you can fill in a few numbers (or more than a few) and then ask your senior to play.
For word lovers, a classic crossword puzzle can entertain your senior for hours. You can read the questions aloud and let them think over the answers or you two can sit and complete the puzzle together.
Besides the crossword that’s published in your newspaper, look online for fun crosswords at all difficulty levels covering a variety of topics. If you can, download and print out a crossword on a topic of interest to your senior. That’ll bring back some memories!
On a quiet, cold, rainy afternoon, few things are better than turning on the fireplace, making a hot cup of tea, warming up in a blanket, and doing a jigsaw puzzle.
Don’t buy children’s puzzles for your senior, but make sure the puzzle isn’t so difficult that they get frustrated and don’t want to complete it. If you and your senior get through one puzzle quickly, you can always start on another one.
With a deck of cards, you and the dementia patient in your life can play an assortment of games. Maybe it’s rummy, slapjack, crazy eights, or go fish. You can even play more advanced card games like blackjack.
Sensory Activities For Dementia Patients
Make sure that sensory activities are also a regular part of a dementia patient’s life. These touch-based activities might strengthen the brain’s nerve connections, says Goodstart. At least that benefit has been proven in children.
Try the following sensory activities today:
Baking and cooking are necessary life skills that can renew a senior’s sense of independence. They’ll use their brain plenty as they find the right ingredients, measure out the necessary quantities, and put together meals and desserts. All along, you’ll be there to help.
If you trust your dementia patient around a stove or oven, then you can let them take care of this part of cooking while you stand by and watch. You can also step in and do this yourself if you’re more comfortable.
Another sensory task is folding laundry. Sure, to you, it’s a basic everyday chore, but to a senior, it’s another way of reclaiming their independence. Their brain will come alive as the senior sorts through the laundry pile and categorizes like items.
Arts And Crafts
You never grow out of arts and crafts. Delight your dementia patient with an artsy afternoon together.
You can copy long-held family recipes to nice card stock, make a seasonal wreath for the front door, craft homemade jewelry, create a scrapbook, do some woodworking, knit, or paint and draw. – all while helping hone motor skills.
Check Pinterest for more crafty ideas you can do with your senior.
Brain exercises can’t give back what a dementia patient has lost, but they can keep your senior’s brain sharp in its current state. Through sensory activities, games, dancing, exercising, and learning new abilities, a senior will find more ways to appreciate life even with dementia.