Can using apps slow or reverse dementia symptoms?

A common question I hear is:  "My loved one has Dementia.  What apps can she do to help?"

The answer is complicated. Dementia is progressive and apps will not cure it.  Playing many apps may make you better at that task, but may not necessarily carry over into everyday function (which is what matters).  

A very interesting, large research study about benefits of apps to train speed of processing WAS correlated with decreased risk of dementia.  The study followed participants for 10 years and had nearly 3,000 participants.  They found that people in the "speed of processing" training group who also received booster trainings "were forty-eight-per-cent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia after ten years than their peers in the control group. The reasoning and memory classes, meanwhile, appeared to have no effect."  Read more about this study

Other research shows cognitive rehab (including mobile apps) is most effective when highly individualized and focused on the client’s unique challenges and goals.

Social experiences may also be beneficial, like doing jigsaw puzzles or playing cards (even simple card games like Crazy 8's together can add to the benefits.  Going for walks and conversing about what you see around you is another beneficial activity.  

When evaluating apps, consider these factors:

App options for cognition - Speech Spark
  • Does the person enjoy them? Any language or cognition exercise will only help if the person is motivated.
  • Is it simple and easy to understand, but not childish?
  • Avoid pop-ups. (They can be confusing and lead to unintentional purchases)
  • Does is address a skill: language,  attention, reasoning, speed of processing, logic?
  • Does the app seem to make false/exaggerated claims?  Does it claim to "cure" anything? Does it make promises without the research to back it up?  Many "brain training" programs have recently settled lawsuits about false and misleading claims.  

Word games:

Difficulty with words and language is very common with cognition impairments, including dementia.  Word games and exercises can be helpful to strengthen those connections and help improve or slow the decline of language problems due to dementia.  

Dementia apps
  • “Chain of Thought” - a fun word association game, with plenty of hints as needed.
  • Tactus Therapy: “Category Therapy” “Naming Therapy” are good but may require assist with set up.  Once they are set up, then the person may be independent, depending on their stage and how well they learn the activity.  
  • Lingraphia “Talk Path” has several tasks / apps for both language and cognition.  It also has free short, easy-to-understand current event news stories.
  • “Constant Therapy” is a similar program to Talk Path that’s subscription-based and support to advance
  •  “Talk around it” - This app helps practice strategies to compensate for word-finding challenges.
  •  “Word Stack” another word association game that's more challenging.

 

Thinking Skills games:

A caveat with thinking skills and cognitive games is the jury is still out on effectiveness. The person may improve their skill at the game, but carrying that improvement over into functional activities is still questionable.  Focusing on components -- like comprehension and attention which are necessary for memory -- may be more beneficial that just practicing non-functional memory games.  

  • Tactus therapy – “Visual Attention” - This attention game is beneficial for reading. Consider if the person enjoys reading books, magazines or newspapers, reads prescription bottle labels, tv guides, etc.  
  • “Mind Games” and “Fit Brains” are good brain exercise apps; However, they show progress and compares you to same-age people and the comparison/progress may be frustrating.  These may be best for Mild Cognitive Impairment or early stages of dementia.
  • “Matrix 3” is a visual spatial reasoning game.  (It’s designed for kids so you’ll want to turn the sound off immediately.  If you can get past that negative, it’s challenging and very good)

Dementia Quality of Life:

What apps CAN help when a loved one has dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?

These apps are better to start earlier than later. Even just using a few components will help it become part of a routine.  The tasks in the app can be modified as dementia progresses.  

  •  “MindMate” – This is a pretty user-friendly app designed for people with memory concerns.  It includes games, a place for a person to write notes/reminders/to do lists.  This app is also nice because it has a memory book built right in.  Memory books are wonderful tools that are best to set up early in the disease process to begin a routine, and then adjust them as the disease progresses.
  • “Gray Matters” app is an electronic memory / reminiscence book.  

Relaxation Apps:

Dementia is stressful and frustration.  It can cause frustration, and anxiety and/or depression are common.  Sometimes apps can help provide relief by encouraging relaxation.

  •  “Yesterday USA Old Time Radio” - an app with old time radio shows 1920-1950’s – there are a few apps like this; This one can also be wonderful for improving quality of life and enjoying reminiscence. 
  • “Relax lite” and “Smiling Mind” are two relatively simple relaxation apps, although there are plenty of other good choices.  Finding one that the person enjoys is key. Starting a routine of using relaxation techniques early, before the person needs them, will benefit them later.

Other relaxing activities to consider:

  • Colored pencils and adult coloring books
  • Tracing in adult coloring books
  • Watercolors (wonderful for almost all levels of dementia)
    • As a side note, even in advanced dementia, you can use non-toxic or food-based dyes for watercolors to minimize concerns with accidental ingestion.
  • Rolling balls of yarn (to make dryer balls, if needing a productive purpose)

 

Bottom Line

 Carefully chosen apps can be a beneficial and enjoyable addition to the plan. Choose apps that work on foundation skills and that are of interest.  Choose apps that support compensatory strategies (like reminders for when medications are due, or the names of people you are about to meet).  Incorporate apps into your entire plan including social activities, relaxation techniques, nutrition, and exercise.  

Do remember that dementia and other progressive disorders are very different than impairments resulting from a stroke or TBI as far as benefits and expectations.  For example, a properly designed individualized app program, research shows,  CAN improve functional language skills for someone with aphasia.

All of these recommendations are general information, NOT medical advice.  They may or may not apply to your situation.  Would you like custom recommendations for YOUR situation?  

 

Card games are an excellent non-app option for cognitive stimulation, and have the added benefits of social communication.

Card games are an excellent non-app option for cognitive stimulation, and have the added benefits of social communication.

Contact us to for an assessment and custom recommendations for your unique situation.

We can develop a custom plan, including caregiver training if needed, to focus on client's quality of life, priorities, interests and hobbies.