The Cochrane Collaboration recently published a study that reviewed previously conducted research on cognitive exercise and its effect on dementia. The basic question of the review reflects this concern: We tell people to stay active mentally, do their puzzles and engage in group activities, but does it really make a difference?
The answer is a clear "yes". The researchers reviewed 15 different studies involving a total of 718 participants. The oldest study dated back to 1979 and the most recent studies were published in 2011. Although the studies were not all conducted in the same manner, the basic structure was similar.
Most of the groups were led by trained facility staff and consisted of four or five people who were diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia. The activities included discussion of current or past events, puzzles, games, baking or indoor gardening for approximately 45 minutes two to five times a week. Some of the studies also involved training family members to carry out similar activities at home with their loved ones.
The studies measured their results by using tests to evaluate the participants' memory and other aspects of cognitive ability. The results consistently demonstrated significant improvement in cognition immediately following the mental exercise. Some of the studies also measured cognitive functioning over time and found that at one to three months after the mental stimulation, the cognitive benefits were still maintained, which is pretty impressive.
Furthermore, some of the studies also measured quality of life and overall well-being, and reported improved communication and social interaction, in addition to improved cognition.
While medication is sometimes helpful in treating the symptoms of Alzheimer's and other dementia, it's heartening to see improvements from the kind of brain workouts outlined in this review of research.
Interested in working out your brain? Review these 12 ways to stretch your brain with mental exercise and consider where you or your loved one would like to start.