As researchers gain more and more understanding about dementia, developing games for seniors and having fun is proving to play an important role in treating the disease. The role technology plays in that treatment may be growing as well. Researchers have found that people with dementia can play games, including interactive touchscreen games found on phones and tablets, and that playing them is actually therapeutic. This type of treatment is now known as Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST), and it has been sweeping the globe. As this research is developed, more games for seniors with dementia will find their ways to caregivers.

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy

There is no known cure for dementia as of yet; however, they do respond well to certain treatments in the early stages that slow down the progression of the disease. One of those resources is cognitive stimulation therapy. CST is an approved method of therapy for dementia patients in many countries, with the United Kingdom leading the way. Its reputation as being highly effective has spread around the world in conjunction with the most recent G8 summit calling for a greater collaborative funding effort to fight dementia.

While CST is fairly new to the United States, it is a well-established, evidenced-based treatment throughout the world. Many people with even mid to late stage dementia are responding positively to it.

CST focuses on improving the quality of life by expanding cognitive function with the use of games. One London-based study looked at 201 people with dementia over the course of a 7-week treatment trial. Participants received CST twice a week for 45 minutes each time. They began sessions with a warm-up activity like playing a game with a large ball. They would play games with facial recognition challenges such as which face is the youngest, et cetera. Games were also played using familiar themes of food and childhood. Pictures were placed on large boards and words were written in order to provide a focus and frame of reference throughout the sessions.

These games achieve the purpose of orienting reality. Reality orienting is accomplished by presenting repetitious information on a regular basis that encourages participation. Incorporating multisensory stimulation, like a ball, helps facilitate reality orienting in an even greater way. Games are an excellent way to facilitate this aspect of CST because they provide a platform for people with dementia to participate.

When a person has a greater reality orientation, the following benefits are measurably seen:

  • Improvements in processing of information
  • Improvements in recognition of objects and people
  • Decrease in depression symptoms

One very notable outcome of the study was that CST compared favorably to drug trials. There was little variation when it came to the positive effects from either method. This is a very hopeful outcome as families with members who have dementia typically try to avoid the cascade effect of medications and their unwanted side effects. It could be that simply playing CST games on a regular basis will cut down on the need for costly prescription drugs and at the same time slow down the progression of the disease.

CST's Effects on Family Caregivers

Interesting to note, CST has been studied in recent years to see if the lives of dementia patient caregivers were benefited in any way. Another UK-based study found that while their results continued to support the use of CST for people with dementia, they could find no evidence that linked those benefits directly to caregivers. However, caregivers' well-being has been documented to improve as the quality of life improves for those in their care. It only makes sense that when a person takes care of another and sees a positive change in the person's quality of life that a small part of that change would be transferred to the caregiver.

Why develop games for seniors with dementia?

Research has been done to observe the caregiver benefits when games focusing on memory improvement are played at home by the caregivers and those in their care.

It also makes sense that the games used to achieve a higher level of reality orientation for dementia patients wouldn't necessarily do the same for a person who doesn't have dementia. Research has been done to observe the caregiver benefits when games focusing on memory improvement are played at home by the caregivers and those in their care. An entry in the British Journal of Psychiatry explains, "a home-based memory management programme [games]involving the family carer led to improvements in memory in the person with dementia, improvements in carer wellbeing, and a reduction in care home admissions at 18 months follow-up."

That would equate to a reduction in overall interventions such as hospital admissions and repeat admissions for dementia-related complications.

In much the same way that occupational therapy for children with disabilities improves cognition and quality of life, games for seniors with dementia can help them make strides in living out the later years with as much enjoyment as possible. As CST becomes more of a mainstream method to treat dementia in our country, there is no reason why caregivers can't begin to play some games at home. Games for seniors with dementia can be a simple game of memory, reminiscing about favorite childhood past times, or tossing a large ball around could accomplish a lot.

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Sources

Aguirre, E., Hoare, Z., Spector, A., Wood, R. T., Orrell, M. (2014). The Effects of a Cognitive Stimulation Therapy Programme for People with Dementia on Family Caregivers' Health. BMC Geriatrics, 14(21). Available at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/international-cognitive-stimulation-therapy/publications/pdfs/aguirre-et-al-2014. Last Visited March 31, 2016.

Groenewoud, H., Schikhof, Y., Astell, A.J., Goumans, M., de Lange, J. (July 2014). IPAD Happy Games for People with Dementia as Pleasant and Meaningful Activity. Alzheimer's & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, 10(4):181. Available at http://aanddjournal.net/article/S1552-5260(14)00329-X/fulltext. Last Visited March 31, 2016.

Spector, A., Thorgrimsen, L., Woods, B., Royan, L., Davies, S., Butterworth, M., Orrell, M. (2003). Efficacy of an Evidence-Based Cognitive Stimulation Therapy Programme for People with Dementia. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 183(3): 248-254. Available at http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/183/3/248.full. Last Visited March 31, 2016.

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