Category Archives: Cognitive Stimulation


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

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.

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.

Dr. Rob’s Cranium Crunches

Dr. Rob Winningham has partnered with to bring cutting edge cognitive stimulation materials to their members. Here is a sample of what we are producing.

1. Mini Sudokus

Mini Sudoku Explained

Mini Sudoku Activity

2. Mental Rotation

Mental Rotation Explained

Mental Rotation Activity