Cognitive rehab & memory enhancement: evidence-based interventions (Part 2)

Cognitive rehab & memory enhancement: evidence-based interventions (Part 2)

There are two main categories of cognitively stimulating activities. One category includes the things we do when we live an active and full life, such as socializing, volunteering, traveling (preferably to new places), and engaging in hobbies. Research suggests that these cognitively stimulating leisure activities are associated with better memory and reduced likelihood of developing dementia.6 A list of suggested activities for independent older adults appears in the sidebar below. Active-aging professionals may want to incorporate this list into the resources they use for their programming.


The other general category of cognitive stimulation is programs designed to enhance cognitive functioning. Many of these programs are computer based, and evidence supports their effectiveness—if people do the activities regularly.7 I have seen and heard countless reports, however, of people who eventually stop using computer-based programs. Continued engagement in a cognitively active lifestyle is important, because we know that living a cognitively stimulating life over a long period can decrease the chances of getting dementia. 


There needs to be continuous thought to motivating people to stick with computer-based programs. Some of these resources can be used with a group, for example; or they can give activity and wellness directors ideas, materials and the ability to track resident performance over time, which can be valuable. Regardless of where activities come from (i.e., computer based or paper-and pencil), group-based cognitive stimulation programs can offer great benefits because of the social engagement factor. These programs are effective in part because people who participate are drawn to classes for the social support component, which keeps them coming back. And, as researchers from Harvard University have reported, social engagement is, in itself, cognitively stimulating.10


For long-term benefits, cognitive training needs to be an ongoing lifestyle behavior, like physical exercise or eating right; this is an important message to share. To maintain the highest quality of life for older adults, organizations need to offer a wide range of activities and programs beyond cognitive stimulation classes. The staff who are facilitating cognitive stimulation programs need to have access to lots of other activities, materials and training. They also need to be aware of program benefits. This knowledge will allow them to adequately motivate individuals to engage in the behaviors that could help maintain or improve their quality of life.


20 cognitively stimulating activities for active older adults

  1. Read a book.

  2. Order a subscription to a newspaper (and read it).

  3. Take a class at a community or seniors center.

  4. Join a club or other organization.

  5. Visit with friends.

  6. Take a class at a community college or local university.

  7. Develop a new hobby.

  8. Begin using email or social media.

  9. Volunteer.

  10. Write a letter.

  11. Join or start a book club.

  12. Go on lifelong learning “field trips” with educational travel companies.

  13. Join a local lifelong-learning group, sponsored by many colleges and universities.

  14. Start writing a journal.

  15. Join a group to give and listen to public presentations.

  16. Attend medical lectures at hospitals.

  17. Play Sudoku and other number puzzles.

  18. Do word search puzzles.

  19. Take an online class.

  20. Begin using a computer-based brain-training program.


This article is provided courtesy of the International Council on Active Aging