Cognitive training of the elderly is a very useful therapeutic resource which slows down the fall of certain mental capacities.
When we enter old age, several aspects of our psychological abilities may be at one of their best times. The fact that we have learned from decades of experience, if we know how to profit from it, makes us wiser and more critical about many things.
However, it is also true that old age comes with limitations related to the passage of time and its effects on our bodies, including our nervous system.
Cognitive training for the elderly it is precisely a tool with which psychologists help to cushion this mental attrition. Because while it is true that hardly anyone at retirement age is as mentally agile as they were at 20, the help of professional psychologists can have a very positive impact.
What is cognitive training?
We call cognitive training the set of techniques and strategies used by specialists in psychological intervention to help those who need it to preserve basic cognitive capacities.
Among these mental capacities we find use of language, memorization, ability to differentiate stimuli, ability to concentrate, writing, sense of direction, Etc. In other words, all those faculties that allow us to solve specific problems, decide on the best options for action and learn from what is happening to us.
Cognitive training can be used in patients of almost any age, however its application to the elderly is particularly common, Because the elderly particularly benefit from its effects. With this type of patient, the goal is to slow down the weakening of these cognitive skills as much as possible.
It is for this reason, among others, that one of my main areas of work is the cognitive training of the elderly: the mere passage of time means that virtually anyone above the retirement threshold can enjoy benefits in his mental and communicative performances when leaving. through several sessions of this type of intervention.
Why do cognitive skills decrease with age?
As we have seen, in people who have entered the stage of old age, cognitive training it is useful regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with a particular condition or syndrome, Since the decline in cognitive abilities is generally assumed to be normal at these ages. Now … why is this loss of psychological skills happening?
Aging can be seen directly in brain tissue, much like it is on the skin of people. This change in appearance, whereby the cerebral cortex shrinks slightly, reflects changes at the functional level of the nervous system: neurons no longer function as efficiently for metabolic and structural changes in nerve cells, and by the death of many neurons.
Tendency to sedentary lifestyle
Another aspect to consider is that older people tend to be less physically active than other age groups, due to a lack of energy and physical limitations such as joint pain or loss of muscle mass. This makes it easier to fall into a sedentary life, in which there is not a wide variety of stimuli and therefore the person rarely experiences cognitive challenges.
Adopt a comfortable lifestyle
Consistent with what we saw in the previous paragraph, older people tend to adopt lifestyle habits that match what they already know and what they can do. One of the causes of this is that as we age we find environments and contexts that match our innate potentials, which by genetic inheritance is not very difficult for us.
For example, if someone has a talent for creativity, it is very possible that they will retire using much of their free time to paint and already have family and friends who appreciate and support these initiatives. It’s not bad in and of itself, obviously, but it’s still a way to stay away from what poses a challenge, something new to us. The cognitive training of seniors breaks with this logic of “comfort zone”.
How is the psychological intervention carried out?
What is the methodology that psychologists use to intervene in the cognitive training of seniors? In my work, the 3 phases in which this process takes place are as follows.
The person should first be assessed to determine to what extent the cognitive wear and tear produced by old age significantly affects their abilities. To this end, he applied a pre-test which serves to establish the basis of the performance, the patient’s condition before the mental training to which he is going to undergo.
In addition, this not only serves to know which skills fail the most and which abilities are best preserved (and to what extent), but also allows you to track progress, see if you are reaching your goals.
2. Psychological intervention sessions
If the previous step was characterized by the collection of information, this involves the patient. For this, in my case, weekly visits are planned to CECOPS, a place where I directly take care of the person who needs professional intervention; these visits can be done individually or in groups, According to the specific needs of each.
It is important to note that in cognitive training sessions for seniors psychologists do not limit themselves to giving information: It wouldn’t be a real practice, but an informative discussion. While conveying the theory of what is happening is important, the most fundamental are the psychological activities that are carried out by the patients, under the supervision of the psychologist.
These activities can focus on different areas of human cognition: memorization, use of language, use of guidelines to know what to do at a given time, etc.
3. Practice at home
If the psychological intervention sessions in the consultation of the psychologist are very important, it is necessary not to “disconnect” from what has been learned there between session and session. We need to learn these days to consolidate and strengthen these learnings.
Therefore, another function that we as psychologists have is to motivate and inform patients so that they find times to apply certain psychological exercises in their daily life. It’s not much different from what happens when we want to progress in school or university: we have to study whether there are classes on that day or not.
On the other hand, as professionals in psychological well-being, psychologists also like to have constant and fluid communication with the immediate environment of patients exposed to situations of a certain vulnerability; generally these people are family members. Thanks to this, we have realized that in you, there is also a context which encourages the person to continue to progress, and which will help you to achieve your goals.