A Puzzlement, Indeed
Play is serious work. We work hard to make sure our kids have the right play toys to help them learn skills that match their age and abilities. These include hand-eye coordination games such as the one that buzzes when you take out the funny bone incorrectly. (I could never master that part of the Operation game.)
Like my dad often said, “Always use the right tools for the right jobs.” That is why I find it a real puzzlement when organizations that would never scrimp on the latest medication management systems or non- slip flooring or even the best nutritional food for their senior clients have activity rooms that are filled with toy store cast-offs. So often, you will see boxes of games that their residents haven’t seen in 50 years, if ever (Candyland, Life, Monopoly sets with missing game pieces and even colouring books). And we actually expect our loved ones to enjoy and be stimulated by these offerings.
I know many wonderful and dedicated activity directors who will reach into their own pockets to purchase memory games and puzzles to help keep their residents’ minds active. They do so much with so little so very often – because of how much they care about their residents.
And now there are studies that bear out these activity directors’ efforts to make sure their residents receive the best possible and most appropriate cognitive tools. The Cochrane Library Study titled Cognitive Stimulation to Improve Cognitive Functioning in People with Dementia evaluated the "effectiveness and impact of cognitive stimulation interventions aimed at improving cognition for people with dementia."
The review included 15 trials with a total of 718 participants in the mild to moderate stages of dementia. Cognitive stimulation activities included: word games, puzzles, music, and practical activities such as baking or indoor gardening.
Among the findings:
A clear, consistent benefit on cognitive function was associated with cognitive stimulation.
There was consistent evidence from multiple trials that cognitive stimulation programs benefit cognition in people with mild to moderate dementia over and above any medication effects.
Overall, participants who received cognitive stimulation also reported improved quality of life and they were able to communicate and interact better than previously.
So you don’t have to
simply take my word for it.
A few years ago, I visited a beautiful adult day centre in Texas. Their senior clients were sitting in the activity room after lunch. Noticing a trumpet on the bookshelf, I asked if anyone could play it. A gentleman stood and said he could and he would love to play. A lady sat at the upright piano and another lady stood to sing. The big band era music that filled the room was joyful and actually quite good. After our serenade, the centre director took me aside and said with tears in her eyes, “They have never done that before.” Now they have music Wednesdays, and I hear it is a swinging’ time.
Gary Barg is the Editor-in-Chief of Today's Caregiver Magazine, caregiver.com and the Caregiver Newsletter. You can received his newsletter for free by going to caregiver.com and signing up.