GERO 407 Cognitive Rehab Students Create Cognitively Stimulating Activities

Cognitive Stimulation Ideas from GERO 407

Cognitive Rehabilitation Students at Western Oregon University.

gold_low_resGERO 407 – Cognitive Rehabilitation students did an assignment in which they described a cognitively stimulating activity and tried to develop a resource that could be immediately useful for an activity director, life engagement director, occupational therapist, speech therapist, recreation therapist, or someone who just wants to exercise their brain. They didn’t necessarily need to develop a completely original idea, but they had to give credit if they borrowed an idea. Below I have shared, with the students’ permission, some of the best ideas were generated so others could take advantage of these creative activities.

The States and Their Mottos

Brian May shared this fun activity, people can identify state mottos and the states of the union. See attached file for more information and images of each states that can be enlarged.

Click here to download the activity

The Matching Game

Submitted by Rachel Crawford


Create a set of 18 different cards, each with an identical matching card, for a total sum of 36 cards. On the back of the cards place an image that is the same for all of the cards. This image could be anything, such as a logo or it could simply say “The Matching Game.” Choose a theme (for example: animals, types of cars, foods, famous people, etc) for the opposite side of the cards. Make sure there is two of each type of card for the client to match together.

To begin the game, turn all of the 36 cards face down in a square pattern. Have the client turn over one card at a time, looking at it for a moment and then flipping it back over, trying to remember what image was on the card. Next, the client will then flip over a different card to see if the two cards are the same, and thus, have created a match. If the cards are a match, they can both be turned face up until the end of the game. If the cards are not a match, they must be placed faced down while the client makes another attempt to match the cards. After 18 different matches have been made the game has been won!

This game can either be played with real cards or a digital version. It should be based around a theme that will get the client engaged and excited to do the activity. Here is a link to a simple online version where someone can play for free: Here is a link where you can find various templates for creating your own cards on the computer:

The Benefits:

This game is good for spatial memory. It builds a person’s ability to remember where they last placed something. This game would really help to exercise the frontal lobe (executive functioning) because it works on attention and focuses on attending to important stimuli. This game could also work the parietal lobe of the brain because it is focused on the spatial aspect of where certain cards were when the client turned them over. Additionally, this game engages the occipital lobe because it is very visual by adding fun and colorful images to the cards.

Source: This idea came from the “Play Attention” website.

The Matching Game Sample Cards


Group Nursery Rhymes

Submitted by Audrey Drake

Purpose: To challenge executive function by requiring participants to perform selective attention and inhibition as they recite common nursery rhymes as a group.

What you will need: At least 2 people, but certainly the more the merrier in this case. You may use whichever nursery rhymes (or every hymns, songs, speeches, etc) that you wish, but an attached sheet is provided with some common examples.

How it works:

  • Gather your group of people in a circle (it makes it easier, but feel free to choose whatever shape you desire!)
  • Choose a person who will start the nursery rhyme
  • This person (A) will start off saying out loud the first word of the chosen nursery rhyme.
  • The second person (B) will be the person to that person’s left (or in a clockwise direction). B will say the second word of the rhyme and so on, around the circle in a clockwise fashion.
  • Here comes the tricky part! The rhyme will only continue to be said around the circle in a clockwise fashion as long as the first letter of each word begins with a consonant. Once the word before the word that begins with a vowel is reached the next person in the clockwise direction will NOT say the word that begins with a vowel. Instead, the person counter-clockwise of the person who has said the last word (the one beginning in a consonant) will say the word that starts with a vowel and the direction of the game will change to go counter-clockwise until another word that begins with a vowel is reached. Now this can be confusing, so here is an example that hopefully helps:
    1. Example with Mary Had a Little Lamb assuming we have 6 people (A-F)
      1. A: Mary
      2. B: (the person to A’s left) had
  • A: A (see how the word “a” is and begins with a vowel, so instead of C saying the word, it is said by the person to the right of B, the person who said the last word, thus changing the direction of the game)
  1. F: Little
  2. E: Lamb
  3. D: Its
  • C: Fleece
  • B: was
  1. A: white
  2. B: as (Here again! Instead of F saying the next word, it is said by the person on the opposite side of A, the last person to say a word, thus changing the direction of the game back to clockwise)
  • You may go until you reach the end of the rhyme or you get tired. Don’t worry if it gets confusing! Do a practice run with one of the rhymes to get a feel for how the game works. If you aren’t as fast as the other participants don’t worry-you’ll get better the more you practice, everyone works at their own speeds.

How to spice it up:

Tired of the old routine? Here’s some ideas to make it more of a challenge!

  • Turn it into a game! Have two groups compete against each other-who can reach the end of the rhyme first?
  • Instead of basing the game on the first letter of the word, how about the last letter? For instance with Mary Had A Little Lamb in the first stanza you would have to change directions with “a”, “little”, “fleece”, & “white”. It also makes it harder because you have to be thinking a good deal ahead to determine what words come next and how they are spelled, which is always a challenge in the English Language.
  • Nursery rhymes becoming too dull? That’s fine! If you all know a famous song, speech, or poem let it loose! It is always a good idea to incorporate new material. If you get really bored you can also use something more challenging like a newspaper article, but then you would have to have a copy for everyone.



Last Letter Game

Lela Williams shared the activity that can be found at:

Last Letter Game simply involves choosing a category like food. Someone says a one word answer like RAISAN, then the next person needs to think of a type of food that starts with the last letter of the previous word (‘N’ in this case); NUTS, then SALAD, and so on. This activity is appropriate for people who have some cognitive impairment, but choose categories with more things to make it easier. It could be a fun game for children at about second grade or older. The game exercises left temporal lobe and word generation. It also exercises the frontal lobe and attention.


Spot the Difference

Megan Seifried shared this activity that can be found at:

This fun (but sometimes frustrating) game is a great way to exercise our visual scanning abilities. It certainly exercises the frontal lobes while the person concentrates in order to find differences. It also exercises another part of the frontal lobe if a strategy is employed, such as searching in sectors or grids. The might be an important cognitive ability to exercise as there is good evidence that visual memory is affected with many types of dementia.


Alphabetize the Days of the Week or the Months of the Year

Francisco Villasenor submitted a brilliant idea about alphabetization, in which participants would get 7 pieces of paper with the days of the week on them (or 12 pieces of paper with the months on them). Initially, the participants would put them in the order normal order, such as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, etc (or, January, February, March, etc.).

Then, the participants need to put the days (or months) in alphabetical order, such as: Friday, Monday, Saturday, Sunday, etc.

Francisco knew that this activity would require executive functioning resources, in particular the ability to attend to the task, and, maybe even more importantly, the ability to inhibit putting the days of the week or the months of the year in their usual order. Inhibition, or not doing something, is an incredibly important cognitive task. We need to inhibit thinking about depressing or anxiety provoking topics. We need to inhibit aggression and socially inappropriate behavior. And, we need to inhibit not have that next glass of wine or finishing the bag of chips. There are a number of neuropsychology tests that measure inhibition (e.g., Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, Stroop Tess, and Trail Making Test) that have people do something one way or a typical way and then they have to inhibit doing that and do it a different way. These tests all measure inhibition and other aspects of executive functioning, exactly what this activity will exercise. Try it, it is harder than it sounds.

It is important  to always have people do the typical order of the days of the week or months of the year. Then, alphabetize them. Have people time how long it takes to alphabetize the list and encourage them to beat their best scores.

Print out the days of the week and months of the year. Cut them up and exercise those brains.


Theatre Arts Can Be Used as a Potent Brain Exercise  cards_low_res

In 2004, Noice, Noice, and Staines published a paper in which they showed a theatre training intervention led to significant improvements in some types of cognition and mental well being. Theatre is a fun way to exercise attention and encoding new memories. It could be that some of the observed benefits also happened due to the social engagement, which has previously been correlated with better cognitive functioning, possibly because it is cognitively stimulating. And, it may be more fun and consuming to act than do some typical brain exercises.

Melanie Annear created the linked file, which describes a game known as Freeze, which is an improvisational exercise used by actors to warm up and encourage improvisational thinking. Click here to download Melanie’s information about Freeze.


Synonymous Images

In this activity, developed by Nickie Sickles, participants see an image such as a dog with the word dog underneath it. The participants must say or write a sentence and not use the word. If they can’t say dog, their sentence could be “The canine was fond of left over spare ribs.” This requires inhibiting saying the word, which is a frontal lobe activity as well as an executive functioning activity. This activity is appropriate for people with some cognitive impairment.

Click here to view Nickie’s sample handout. Make more by using clip art.


Name It Game

 Chelsea Beecroft submitted this fun activity. It is like a simpler version of Scattegories. This activity exercises word generation, which is largely handled by the left temporal lobe of the brain. But it also exercises executive functioning, attention, and implementing strategies. And, it would be a fun social activity and, as stated earlier, we know that social engagement is cognitively stimulating.

Materials Needed

1. Notecards

2. Marker

3. Two 6 Sided Dice


1. Using the notecards and marker write the categories, one category per notecard, on one side of notecards.

2. When note cards are finished, place them all with the category name down and not visible in one stack.

3. Set dice on table. (Note: you can make this game more challenging by using two dice, less challenging by using just one)


1. Play with 2 or more people

2. First person who starts the game picks the first card off the top off the deck and reads it allowed.

3. Then the player rolls the die or dice.

4. The number that shows up on the die (add both die if there are two) is the number of things that the player has to name out of the category on the card they drew.

5. Next players turn.

One variation is to have people work together in pairs, which might make it a little easier and fast paced.

You could modify the game to make it competitive but as it is described it is just a fun brain exercise.

Click here to download the complete list of categories to write on note cards.



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