Social activities help patients with dementia stay sharp and avoid depression

SHEFFIELD, England — About 6 million people in the United States have dementia, as well as 50 million people worldwide. There is currently no cure for the degenerative disease and medical treatments often have side effects such as vomiting, loss of appetite and muscle pain. Now, researchers say patients can benefit greatly from a type of treatment that doesn’t have such drawbacks and helps their brains avoid further decline.

Mining with other people helps dementia patients stay sharp and fight depression, a new study suggests. Scientists say the type of treatment known as ‘cognitive stimulation’ could make life with dementia easier for hundreds of thousands of people.

“Dementia is one of the biggest global challenges we face,” lead author Dr Claudia von Bastian, from the University of Sheffield, said in a statement. “Our research highlights that cognitive stimulation may be a safe, relatively inexpensive and accessible treatment to help reduce some of the main symptoms of dementia and may even alleviate symptoms of depression.”

Researchers analyzed the use of cognitive stimulation as an effective treatment for people with dementia. They found that involving patients in social and group activities helped fight depression and boost global cognition.

Global cognition refers to five types of brain functions: attention, memory, fluency, language, and consciousness. “It’s great that governments now recognize the importance of people living well with dementia. We have seen a lot more energy and resources put into developing initiatives to support this, such as cognitive stimulation, which is now widely used around the world,” notes co-author Dr Ben Hicks, from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

“We still need to know more about the key cognitive boosting ingredients that lead to these benefits and how they influence dementia progression. However, the lack of negative side effects and the low costs of this treatment mean that the benefits are clear,” adds Dr von Bastian.

More research is needed to determine if cognitive stimulation and other non-pharmaceutical treatments could help the growing number of people who suffer from dementia.

“Our research is the first to comprehensively interrogate the evidence base for its effectiveness, using the latest statistical techniques. Although early signs are positive, there is an urgent need to improve the rigor of evaluative research and better assess the long-term benefits of cognitive stimulation. People with dementia need effective treatments and as a research community that is what we need to provide,” added Dr Hicks.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

Joel C. Hicks