Activities That Stimulate Cognition in the Elderly

Cognition is defined as the product of memory or awareness. Mentally stimulating tasks create more brain cells and connections among cells. Having more brain cells, or cognitive reserves, enables you to withstand the challenges of age, notes a study in the June 2003 issue of the "British Medical Journal." Leisure activities such as dancing, playing board games, reading, crossword puzzles and playing an instrument all stimulate learning in the brain and may reduce the risk of dementia 2.


People who dance frequently show a reduced incidence of dementia, according to the spring 2007 issue of the Association of American Retired Persons, or AARP, magazine. Ballroom dancing requires coordination between the feet and the brain. Learning the different dance steps stimulates the brain. Dancing is a good cardiovascular workout that increases blood flow to the brain. Dancing is the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia, according to a study in the June 19, 2003, issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine.” 2


Crossword puzzles are popular memory exercises. They challenge the memory and keep the brain fit, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The American Health Assistance Foundation's Alzheimer's Disease Research program recommends playing sudoku to exercise the brain and help memory and cognitive functioning. Sudoku is laid out like a crossword puzzle, but numbers are used instead of words. Each row across and down must have only one of each consecutive number 1 though 9. Each block of cells has the same restriction. You do not need math skills to play sudoku. It is a logic puzzle.


Reading involves language and cognition that exercises the brain. A study at the Mayo Clinic found that middle-aged people who read books or magazines are less likely to develop memory loss. Reading is a cognitive exercise and can help prevent future memory loss.

Playing a Musical Instrument

Music can make you smarter, according to Lutz Jancke, professor of neuropsychology at ETH Zurich. The physical act of playing an instrument changes the anatomy of the brain. The area of the brain used for processing music also is involved in memory and language skills.

Board Games

Playing board games such as Monopoly, chess and checkers are cognitive activities that stimulate brain activity and are associated with reduced rates of memory loss, according to a study in the June 2003 issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine.” 2