Author Archives: Rob Winningham


Bringing Google Home Mini Digital Assistants into Retirement Communities

Kiana Wilson, Getsi Paredes Hernandez, and Samantha Marcott worked with Dr. Rob Winningham at Western Oregon University to pilot a program to put digital assistants in the homes of older adults living in a local retirement community. During this process we came across some useful resources for people interested in doing the same. We also have some suggestions for others who want to incorporate digital assistants into their communities.

We chose to use the Google Home Mini, in order to maximize the usefulness and accuracy of web searches. Google Home Minis are widely available in retail outlets.

Possible Benefits for Older Adults

  • People with visual impairments could benefit from voice activated technology.
  • There could be benefits related to enhanced social engagement. When conversing with friends and family, one can ask Google Home for answers to questions or information about topics being discussed.
  • If text and phone features are set up, it is easy to call or text someone using voice commands. This could also facilitate social engagement.
  • There are possible cognitive stimulation opportunities and benefits. Setting up the Google Home Mini and then using it, could provide opportunities to learn new things and maximize one’s cognitive engagement.
  • The calendar feature can be helpful. One can begin their day with “Hey Google, what is on my calendar today?”
  • Many people enjoy the various options for setting up music and podcasts.
  • The breadth of features available within Google Home is immense and its use can be customized for the individual.

Suggestions Based on Our Experiences

  • It is important to get willing participants who are interested in and able to learn this new technology. One of our older adult participants kept saying “I can do that without a Google Mini”, which is probably true. Humans have survived for a long time with digital assistants but they can have value.
  • Participants will need a smart phone or tablet (e.g., Apple or Android) in order to use a digital assistant. Also, if they want to use the call or text features, they will need a smart phone.
  • Participants will need a Gmail account to set up their Google Home.
  • Participants will need to download the Google Home app.
  • Participants need WFii (Google Home and smart phone/tablet need to be on the same wife network).
  • Participants need to have their Gmail and app store passwords available for the set up process..
  • Participants might want to know that they can say “Hey Google, Can you repeat that?” or “Hey Google, can you repeat that more slowly?”
  • Where should the device be placed in the home? We generally found that participants preferred to place the device in their living room.
  • We recommend showing the participants where the manual microphone switch is located.
  • Consider using the Google Home Checklist that was created for this project.
  • Consider using the Google Home Basic Commands.

How to video set up

Streaming how to

Google home help


Google home mini

Demo videos


Ted Talks for Older Adults (and anyone who is curious)

Ted Talks for Older Adults (and anyone who is curious)

Curated By Dr. Rob Winningham

There are many ways to get cognitive stimulation and exercise. While I am a proponent of Tedcognitive exercises that target specific cognitive abilities, such as executive function (e.g., attention, inhibition, problem solving, etc.) or spatial reasoning, it is also a good idea to stay curious and continue to learn about new things. In the past, I have suggested that Ted Talks could be incorporated into either individual’s efforts to get mental exercise or group programming. Recently, I was asked to curate a list of Ted Talks that I would recommend. There are countless more Ted Talks that could be added to this list, but for what it is worth here’s my list:

  1. Older People are Happier by Laura Carstensen

  1. Life’s Third Act by Jane Fonda

  1. The New Era of Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman

  1. How to Live to Be 100 (Blue Zones) by Dan Buettner

  1. Having the Sex Talk with Dad by Elaine Sanchez

  1. The Anatomy of a New Yorker Cartoon by Bob Mankoff

  1. The Surprising Science of Happiness by Dan Gilbert


5 Things People Need to Know About Multitasking and the Brain

Most people have heard that multitasking is bad for concentration and increases the likelihood of making mistakes. But if we know we make more mistakes when we multitask, why do we still do it? Why do some people proudly report they are good multitaskers? Maybe we like multitasking because it activates the reward centers in the brain and releases the feel-good-neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Also, while people may know that multitasking affects their performance, it appears that they are not fully aware how much it is hurting their work. Let’s explore some of the recent scientific findings on multitasking.shutterstock_227976460

  1. Multitasking is really task switching

Researchers think of multitasking as actually task switching. We cannot attend to two mental tasks at the same time, so multitasking involves quickly switching attention between tasks. Switching our focus takes time and we make more mistakes when we move between tasks. Research has shown it is more efficient to do things in sets. For example, first pay all your bills, then check your new emails, and then make those phone calls. This idea is especially useful when applied to mail and email. If you want to maximize your productivity, respond, file, or discard mail or emails right after reading them. It will take more time and mental energy to re-read and respond to correspondence later. Do your mental work in discreet batches.


  1. Multitasking causes us to miss important things in the world

When people multitask, they might also miss out on important details and experiences. One of my mentors, Dr. Ira Hyman, published a paper showing that college students who were using their cell phones while walking across campus were far less likely to see a clown on a unicycle, compared to people who were not using their phones. In fact, 75% of the cell phone users didn’t remember seeing the unicycle-riding clown, even though it had been right in front of them! We miss out on details when we multitask.


  1. Multitasking could be causing us to become more distractible 

shutterstock_168121490Even more worrisome than missing out on details, we might become more mentally distractible if we allow ourselves to automatically respond to the next email, text message, or intrusive thought. We should give sustained focus to one task at a time. Mental discipline and focus are habits that are learned, but distractibility can also be learned.


  1. The cost of multitasking probably depends on the situation

Based on recent research, there appears to be a trade-off between how demanding tasks are and how much multitasking impairs performance. Have you ever noticed that you can very effectively drive a familiar route or a fairly long distance on an interstate highway while having an in-depth conversation with a passenger and experience no apparent impairment in your conversational abilities nor your driving ability? That is because driving, especially on a familiar route or on less interesting parts of the interstate, isn’t usually cognitively demanding. But try to have the same type of conversation while driving in a congested city or while trying to follow directions to a new place, and you’ll experience problems driving or conversing or both. We just don’t have enough mental resources for two demanding tasks at the same time. But recent research does confirm that we can usually do a cognitive task at the same time as a familiar motor task. For example, we might be able to fold laundry while listening to the news without much of a problem. That is because folding laundry is a motor task that has become automatic and doesn’t require many cognitive resources.


  1. People who think they are good at multitasking are not

People who think they are good at multi-tasking are, on average, worse at multitasking than people who think they are not so good at it. In a frequently citied 2013 paper, researchers reported that college students who performed better at multitasking reported engaging in less multitasking behavior in their lives. The people who reported more multitasking behaviors also scored higher on impulsivity tests. It is hard to know what comes first, impulsivity or multitasking, but other research and theories suggest they may affect each other. Multitaskers might not exercise sustained attention and thus become worse at staying focused. Also, an inability to stay focused could increase someone’s likelihood of becoming a frequent multitasker.


So it looks like we should heed the advice and strive to do less multitasking and more monotasking, that is, focusing on one cognitive task at a time. Email, texting, and social media are some of the most common attention-zapping tasks. So consider minimizing distractions by doing the following: scheduling email time, turning off text and email notifications on your computer, opening one browser window at a time, and completing tasks one at a time. Consider exercising your abilities to stay focused by practicing meditation, which recent research shows can help improve attention. Most of all, be honest with yourself about your multitasking tendencies, and notice the things that divide your attention and impair your mental performance.


Further reading:


Are Dementia Rates Rising? Maybe not…

You may have seen fear inducing headlines such as:

CBS News: Dementia cases worldwide to triple by 2050

The Guardian: Middle-age obesity will lead to a surge in dementia case

BBC New: Experts Predict Dementia Epidemic

While it is true that the overall number of dementia cases will increase in the United States and elsewhere in the coming years, that isn’t the whole story. Three_Trees_DementiaThe headline you don’t often see is that the proportion of older adults with dementia is actually decreasing. We need to define a couple of terms epidemiologists, people who study disease and health in populations, use to describe health trends in the population.

  1. Prevalence – proportion of the population with a particular condition
  2. Incidence – the number of cases in a given time period

For example, the incidence of people wearing cowboy hats in Los Angeles, CA is far higher than it is in Bandera, TX. While Bandera, TX has been called the Cowboy Capital of the World there are only 856 people who call it home whereas Los Angeles, CA has almost 4 million people. Even in only 1 in 30,000 people where a cowboy hat they will have a higher incidence, even though the proportion of people wearing cowboy hats is much lower in LA.

While it is true that the incidence or the number of new cases of dementia is increasing because we now have more older adults and people are living longer. For example, in the past decade the number of people with dementia in the United States has increased by over 1 million, and that sounds kind of scary. But the prevalence or the proportion of the population in the United States and Western Europe has actually decreased! A 2013 study published in the journal Lancet reported that the percentage of people 65 and older with dementia has plummeted 25% in the past 20 years from 8.3% to 6.2%. Similar results have been measured in the United States.

MD_patientWhy is the prevalence or proportion of people with dementia gone down so much? We don’t know for sure but it could be a combination of lifestyle changes and medical advances.

  • Controlling cardiovascular risk factors
    • Cholesterol screening and drugs
    • Blood pressure
  • Better education and possibly more cognitive stimulation
  • Greater awareness of the importance of physical exercise
  • Greater awareness of the importance of good nutrition, omega 3 fatty acids, and diet

It appears that the increased awareness of how lifestyle affects our health might already be affecting dementia rates, but we still have a long way to go. We could further reduce dementia and delay the onset of it by doing the things that we know can maximize memory ability. We haven’t discovered a magic drug to prevent dementia yet, but we are making progressing finding some of the controllable factors that matter.

This article was written by Dr. Rob Winningham, Ph.D. Click here to view his bio.

Apps for Cognitive Stimulation

There are many apps that are now available that can be used to provide cognitive stimulation. This development is a real game-changer in the brain health industry. Almost anyone with access to a tablet or a smartphone can now download high quality brain exercise and cognitive stimulation apps. In November, 2013 I gave a presentation on this topic at the International Council of Active Aging’s Annual Conference in San Diego, CA. You can download the ICAA Powerpoint File I used in the presentation (contains slides used in classes to teach people how to use the apps) or the pdf version of the presentation.

Here are the cognitive stimulation apps I recommend:

1. Fit Brains
2. Lumosity
3. Tetris
4. Sudoku2
5. Memory Block (like the electronic game Simon)
6. Stroop Effect
7. Visual Attention
8. Brain Lab
9. Word Search+
10. Word Jigsaw
11. Brain Challenge
12. Chain of Thought
13. This is to That
14. Watch That!
16. Peak
17. 1010!
18. Elevate
19. Free Flow
20. Rush Hour
21. Unlock Me
Do you know of any apps that would be appropriate for brain or cognitive exercise? If so, please share them here.

Is Alcohol Good or Bad for Our Brains and Memory?

Click here to view Are Dementia Rate Rising? Maybe not…

Is Alcohol Good or Bad for Our Brains and Memory?

By Dr. Rob Winningham, Ph.D.

wineIs alcohol good or bad for our brains and memory? It depends. It largely depends on how much one drinks, genetics, and maybe even gender. There is evidence that one to two drinks a day can have a protective effect on the brain, in terms of a reduced likelihood of developing dementia or having a stroke (strokes can lead to vascular dementia, which is the second most common type of dementia, after Alzheimer’s). In a widely publicized study known as the Rotterdam Study, researchers followed thousands of older adults and found a significant decrease in their chance of getting dementia if they consumed a small amount of alcohol most days relative to people who almost never drink, but the risk of dementia increased for heavier drinkers. In a 2009 study, researchers combined the data from many published studies and reported a 25%-28% reduction in dementia relative to abstainers. The beneficial effects of alcohol may come from reducing inflammation, increasing HDL cholesterol, and increased insulin sensitivity. Alcohol, particularly red wine, is also high in antioxidants, which could increase the longevity of our cells.

But, like many drugs, there are always risks that need to be weighed relative to possible benefits. And, it is important to note that currently there isn’t compelling evidence that starting to drink after years of abstaining is going to have beneficial effects. Particularly worrisome, is the fact that heavy alcohol consumption can even cause cognitive impairment. For example, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a type of dementia that is caused by heavy drinking over a long period of time. It appears that this type of dementia occurs because of a thiamin or Vitamin B1 deficiency that is common in heavy drinker and that deficiency leads to atrophy in an important brain structure involved in making new memories (note low Vitamin B absorption can be the cause of a number of memory disorders, regardless of alcohol consumption). Older adults are also at increased risk of falling if they abuse alcohol. And, certain health conditions might be worsened by heavy drinking including diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, osteoporosis, mood disorders, and it may even increase breast cancer risk in women.


Is Alcohol Good or Bad for Our Brains and Memory? Clearly, it depends on many factors, especially the quantity of the alcohol. Maybe the old cliché, Everything In Moderation applies here as well.



1. Anstey KJ, et al. Alcohol consumption as a risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline: meta-analysis of prospective studies. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry, 2009, 17:542-555.

2. Peters R, et al. Alcohol, dementia and cognitive decline in the elderly: a systematic review. Age and Ageing, 2008, 37:505-512.

3 Weyerer S, Schäufele M, Zimber A. Alcohol problems among residents in old age homes in the city of Mannheim, Germany. Australian And New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry [serial online]. December 1999;33(6):825-830.





Improve Your Sleep and Improve Your Brain

Enhancing Brain Health – Sleep and Memory
 By Dr. Rob Winningham

shutterstock_173631944Approximately 50% of older adults suffer from sleep problems or insomnia, and this can negatively affect their memory ability, quality of life, and mood. In a 2007 study, researchers found that if people miss just one night of sleep, their ability and likelihood of recognizing things they had seen since the sleepless night decreased from 86% to 74%. One might therefore infer that insomniacs who didn’t sleep much the night before would have approximately a 12% reduction in their ability to make new memories. Others researchers have found that the ability to have sustained attention is affected by lack of sleep. Chronic sleep problems increases the chance of becoming obese, impairs mood, and might even shorten one’s life expectancy.

Sleeping medications certainly have their place, but while they often help people fall asleep, there is evidence that they negatively affect the quality of sleep. But the good news is that there are effective non-pharmacological interventions to enhance sleep. Below you will find many of the so-called sleep hygiene recommendations.

  1. Keep regular hours.
  2. Exercise everyday but not in the evening. Stretching and moderate exercise in the morning seem to be most beneficial in decreasing how long it takes to fall asleep and how long people stay asleep.
  3. Don’t drink too much alcohol after dinner; it will impair the quality of sleep.
  4. Take a nap during the day to increase daily sleep. This recommendation is different from what has been suggested during the past 30 years, but new research shows it generally increases total daily sleep duration and quality of night sleep.
  5. Get more exposure to natural light during the day.
  6. Avoid nicotine and caffeine, both of which are central nervous system stimulants.
  7. Try to unwind in the evening by doing things that relax you (e.g., meditation, reading, warm bath, etc.).
  8. Don’t go to bed starved or stuffed.couple_sleeps
  9. Don’t associate the bedroom with wakefulness. Don’t eat, drink, or watch television in bed. If you can’t go to sleep, then get up and do something else besides worrying about not going to sleep.
  10. Don’t ruminate in bed. If you have thoughts you would like to remember, write them down and stop thinking about them.
  11. Use the ultradian cycles to predict optimal times to sleep.  Our ultradian cycle causes us to alternate between higher and lower levels of alertness every 90 minutes.  If you naturally wake up at 7:00 a.m., then waking up at either 6:15 a.m. or 7:45 a.m. would be challenging based on your ultradian rhythm. Similarly, if you are very tired at 10:00 p.m., you might be more awake at 10:45 p.m. and then maximally sleep at 11:30 p.m. Use this rhythm to time the best time to go to sleep or wake up.
  12.  Reduce lights when preparing for sleep and thus increase melatonin release.
  13. Be sure to make the sleeping environment as comfortable as possible (e.g., bedding, temperature, etc.)
  14. Make sure the sleeping environment meets your standards of tidiness.
  15. Try to reduce noise exposure during the night.
  16. Engage in mindfulness meditation.

If you want more information about sleep and brain health, you can find a six part sleep and memory series that I wrote. Click here to view those short articles.



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.



Crossword Puzzles Are Not as Good As Sudoku Puzzles for Exercising the Brain

Crossword Puzzles Are Not as Good As Sudoku Puzzles for Exercising the Brain

By Dr. Rob Winningham


Crossword puzzles, one of the most commonly recognized cognitive stimulation activities, are not actually helping people maximize their memory and attention abilities very much (of course they are not hurting either). Many people are surprised by the assertion that crossword puzzles are not beneficial in preventing age related memory changes. What cognitive abilities are primarily involved when people do crossword puzzles? Crossword puzzles involve getting a cue and then attempting to retrieve previously learned information, which is something that people with age related cognitive impairment and even early to mid stage dementia can do fairly well. Age related changes in cognition and earlier stages of dementia are primarily associated with impairments in the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and make new memories; crossword puzzles don’t really exercise those abilities, but Sudoku puzzles do.


Sudoku puzzles exercise attention and concentration and research shows that exercising those abilities are the most likely to generalize or transfer to the things middle age and older adults need to do in order to maximize their ability to make new memories.

So how do you do Sudokus? There are really only three rules, you need to have each number 1 through 9 in every horizontal row, every vertical column, and sub square on 9 cells. Books of Sudoku puzzles are ubiquitous and can easily be found. And, I recommend for free downloadable Sudoku puzzles. However, 9 X 9 puzzles can be challenging for some people to learn, especially if  they are already experiencing some cognitive impairment.

We have developed a set of easier Sudoku puzzles designed to teach people how to do Sudoku and provide an easier alternative that might be more appropriate for some people (including children). 4_4Start with the easy 4 X 4, then go to the difficult 4 X 4, then easy 6 X 6, followed by harder 6 X 6. Then, the individual should be ready for an easier 9 X 9 puzzle. Note that “easy 9 X 9 Sudoku” is somewhat of a misnomer and they can be made even easier by writing in some of the correct numbers.

Download Dr. Rob Winnngham’s Mini Sudokus

4 X 4 Sudoku Puzzles

4 X 4 Sudoku Answers

Harder 4 X 4 Sudoku Puzzles

Harder 4 X 4 Sudoku Answers

6 X 6 Sudoku Puzzles

6 X 6 Sudoku Answers

Thousands of 9 X 9 Sudoku Puzzles

If you want to make a 9 X 9 sudoku puzzle work your brain even harder then try to do the appropriate level of Sudoku as fast as you can two times. Then, try to do the same level of puzzle while the television news is on. It will be difficult to inhibit paying attention to the television and you can monitor how well you are doing. For example, if someone has the same time to complete the puzzle with and without the television on then they are excellent at inhibiting their attention to irrelevant stimuli.

Many people find the assertion that crossword puzzles are not as effective as Sudoku when trying to improve core cognitive abilities hard to believe. But recent research supports this assertion.  Click here to view the 2013 study.


Maximizing Memory Ability in Older Adulthood


Maximizing Memory Ability in Older Adulthood

Dr. Rob Winningham

Maximizing one’s memory ability in middle and older adulthood requires a multifaceted approach. This short article summarizes recent research showing how we can maximize our memory ability. Any one suggestion won’t have a huge impact, but all together they could have a very significant effect on not only your memory ability but also your quality of life.

It turns out that about 50% of our memory ability and our chance of developing dementia is determined by genetics. So, I hope you chose your parents well, as there isn’t much we can do about our genetic make-up. But the good news is that we can largely control the other 50% that is not genetic.

If you want to maximize your memory ability in adulthood, research shows we need to engage in the following behaviors:

  1. exerciseGet adequate physical exercise. This includes aerobic activity such as walking and other activities that increase heart rate. This also includes strength or resistance training, such as lifting weights. The effects of resistance training are just now being understood, with a 2012 study showing it could lead to significant improvement in attention and concentration for people who are experiencing mild cognitive and memory problems.
  2. Get adequate cognitive exercise. We have all heard of the concept “use it or lose it,” and there is a lot of research that supports this idea. We should never stop learning and challenging ourselves. Cognitive stimulation comes in many forms: we can volunteer, fully engage our hobbies, travel, learn new skills, and engage in targeted cognitive activities. There are even some excellent websites and apps that can help people get targeted brain exercise.
  3. Watch weight, diet, and glucose levels. Controlling weight, avoiding diabetes, and eating right could dramatically reduce the chance of having cognitive problems. There is some evidence that eating fish or a fish oil supplement can reduce one’s chance of developing dementia.Social_Food
  4. Stay socially engaged. Social engagement is very cognitively stimulating and is associated with a reduced likelihood of developing dementia.
  5. Sleep well. Poor sleep quality and quantity can impair brain function and result in a number of physical and mental problems.

In subsequent articles, I will explore the above five factors in more detail.