From difficulty learning new things and making decisions to the loss of independence and ability to complete basic daily activities to depression, anxiety, and agitation, living with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia has implications for one’s cognitive health and mental health (1-3). If you’re one of the millions of people coping with a diagnosis of either MCI or dementia or are a caregiver of someone with dementia, you’re likely regularly on the hunt for new approaches to help manage the various aspects of these conditions. Here are a few research-based strategies that can be used to improve cognitive health and mental well-being in people with MCI or dementia. Click on the links below to learn more.
Visual art therapy—a strategy that revolves around using different supplies, approaches, and styles to produce art—can hold cognitive and/or mental health benefits. Take, for example, people with MCI. In this group, engaging in visual art therapy may lead to significant improvements in cognitive function and small reductions in anxiety. Additionally, this activity may moderately reduce depressive symptoms in people with dementia (4).
The vast majority of people living with dementia experience agitation—a behavioural issue that is not effectively treated by prescribed medications such as anti-psychotics (5;6). This, coupled with the side effects that can accompany these medications, encourages the use of non-drug treatment options (7;8). In particular, massage therapy, personally tailored interventions, animal-assisted interventions, and pet robot interventions may offer a small to moderate reduction in agitation in adults with dementia (5).
Computerized cognitive training refers to computer programs—such as video games, virtual reality activities, and online activities—that aim to improve cognition (e.g., memory, attention, learning, and overall cognition). In people with MCI, computerized cognitive training can lead to moderate short-term improvements in overall cognition, verbal and non-verbal learning, psychosocial functioning, and attention. Large improvements in working memory are another potential benefit. Computerized cognitive training may also provide moderate short-term improvements in visuospatial skills and small improvements in overall cognitive outcomes in people with dementia (9).
Although brain games are a promising approach, combining brain training and physical activity is another strategy that can enhance cognitive function in older adults with or without MCI. Conducting these two activities simultaneously, as opposed to one after the other, may be best (10). In addition to reaping the cognitive rewards, getting in a regular dose of physical exercise is sure to have benefits on other aspects of your physical and mental health.
Beyond its effects on cognitive outcomes, the benefits of cognitive training—computerized cognitive training, cognitive training and rehabilitation, and cognitive stimulation—appear to extend to mental health, as well. Cognitive training can reduce the severity of depressive symptoms in people with MCI or dementia. The size of the effect may differ based on the specific type of training used (11).