Can doing crossword puzzles or discussing current events help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease? A new review of the scientific research shows that puzzles, games and other mentally challenging tasks may indeed be beneficial for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
The report comes from the Cochrane Library, a scientific review board in the United Kingdom. The news is hopeful for anyone coping with the stresses of Alzheimer’s disease. While other studies have suggested that mentally challenging games and puzzles may help to ward off Alzheimer’s, the Cochrane collaboration is considered particularly scientifically rigorous and looked at people who already have the disease.
Scientists analyzed 15 studies to date involving 718 men and women with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. They encompassed a wide range of enjoyable activities aimed at stimulating thinking and memory, including word games, puzzles and discussions of current events. Music and practical activities like baking or indoor gardening were also among the activities considered to be cognitively stimulating, whereas other activities, like watching TV or going to physical therapy, were not.
In most cases, these activities were facilitated by trained staff who met with small groups of Alzheimer’s patients – around four or five people -- for around 45 minutes at least twice a week. In other cases, family caregivers encouraged family members with Alzheimer’s to engage in mentally stimulating activities at home. Home caregivers who were taught to do this said that it did not pose undue extra demands or strain.
The researchers found that mental stimulation improved scores on memory and thinking tests for those with dementia, equivalent to about a six to nine month delay in worsening of symptoms. Some of the studies also found that those with dementia who engaged in such activities had increased feelings of well-being and a better quality of life, including improved communication and interactions with those around them.
Mental stimulation did not, however, appear to improve mood in those with dementia. They were also no better able to care for themselves or function independently.
Benefits were noted in people in the mild to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Those with severe dementia did not seem to benefit from the extra stimulation.
The authors note that more research is needed to find out how long the effects of cognitive stimulation last and for how long it is beneficial to continue the stimulation. They also say that involving family caregivers in the delivery of cognitively stimulating activities merits further study.
Source: Bob Woods, Elisa Aguirre, Aimee E. Spector, Martin Orrell: “Cognitive Stimulation to Improve Cognitive Functioning in People with Dementia.” Cochrane Library, Feb. 15, 2012, published online DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005562.pub2