We all need brain stimulation, even when our brain function is impaired and reduced. It is a basic human need to seek entertainment, thrills, fun, accomplishments, humor, and strategies for winning. All of these goals engage an individual in “mental exercises.” Dementia patients have these needs, but also need a “coach” or “partner” to guide them. Most of us, with fully functioning brains, are good at entertaining ourselves. Dementia patients cannot successfully complete solo mental exercises. They get “lost” along the way in an activity, due to memory loss interruptions and lack of concentration due to attention diversion to a competing stimulus. Normal brains have similar disruptions during completion of a task or project. The difference is, we can control them, and get our brains back on track. A dementia patient needs one-on-one supervision from a “friend” to help him or her stay on track.

The benefits of mental exercises include combating boredom and increasing a personal sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Mental games create suspense while playing, and potentially the thrill of winning. If you are the “coach,” please remember that the dementia patient does NOT have to follow the set rules. The goal is to have FUN! Help the dementia patient “win” and then make a big production out of helping him or her “celebrate” the victory! At the same time, you are helping your patient AVOID negative feelings that lead to behavioral problems, such as agitation. This is a win-win for both of you!

Examples of “in-home” mental exercises:

– flash cards (pick a category: spelling, counting, pictures)

– playing cards (solitaire, black jack, concentration, go fish)

– puzzles (100 pieces or much less, depending on the patient)

– reading & discussing articles of interest to the patient

– reviewing picture books, such as travel, history, gardening

– reviewing family albums and photos. Reminiscing on names, places, events of the past

– board games (checkers, backgammon, monopoly)

– crossword puzzles

– watch and discuss appropriate TV shows, such as Discovery channel

– watch and laugh together at vintage cartoons and comedies (“I Love Lucy,” “The Honeymooners”)

– watch and listen together to vintage musicals, can combine with singing and dancing!

– “busy hands” crafts (cutting, gluing, drawing, sewing, stringing, stuffing)

– “busy at the office” (mimic past occupation – set up desk with simple supplies and papers.)

– “busy in the kitchen” (prepare simple meals together, polish silverware, sort cabinet contents)

– write letters to family, or type and e-mail

– “let’s have a party” (invite a neighbor, plan a simple snack, set the table, decorate)

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