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Cognitive Stimulation Therapy | Free PDF Download

Discover how Cognitive Stimulation Therapy works. Learn about its benefits and various strategies in this guide.

By Ericka Pingol on Jun 16, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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Cognitive Stimulation Therapy

Introduction to Cognitive Stimulation Therapy

Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) is a non-drug treatment recommended for individuals with mild to moderate dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. It involves group or individual mental exercises and activities to promote cognitive function and social interaction.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends CST as the only non-drug treatment for cognitive stimulation in people with mild to moderate dementia. (Holden, Stoner, & Spector, 2021). This underlines the importance and effectiveness of CST in managing dementia.

Cognitive stimulation therapy typically involves 14-18 sessions of themed activities tailored to the interests and abilities of the group or individual (Orrell et al., 2017). These activities stimulate different cognitive abilities, such as memory, language skills, and problem-solving. CST groups are led by trained facilitators, such as occupational therapists, who encourage and support participation in the activities.

In addition to the initial CST sessions, there is also the option for maintenance cognitive stimulation therapy. This involves ongoing sessions to help maintain the benefits of CST and prevent cognitive decline.

Research has shown that CST significantly benefits people's cognitive functioning and quality of life. It has been found to improve cognition and quality of life, as measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale (ADAS-Cog) (Cove et al., 2014; Saint Louis University School of Medicine, n.d.).

However, it should be noted that while CST can positively affect cognitive function and quality of life, it does not stop the progression of dementia (Cochrane, n.d.). Hence, it's important to consider other non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments in conjunction with CST.

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy vs CBT

CST and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are both forms of psychotherapy that focus on cognition (American Psychological Association, n.d.). While they may sound similar, the two approaches have some key differences.

The main difference between CST and CBT is their focus. CBT aims to change negative or harmful thought patterns, while CST focuses on stimulating and engaging cognitive functions in individuals with cognitive impairment or dementia (Physiopedia, n.d.). This means that CBT is typically used to treat mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, while CST is specifically designed for those with cognitive difficulties.

The goals of CBT and CST also differ. While CBT aims to change negative thoughts and behaviors, CST has the goal of improving cognitive functioning and quality of life for individuals with cognitive impairment or dementia. This can include enhancing memory, attention, problem-solving skills, and social interaction (Physiopedia, n.d.).

CBT utilizes various techniques such as cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and relaxation techniques to help individuals challenge negative thoughts and behaviors. In contrast, CST uses a range of activities and exercises to stimulate cognition, including reminiscence therapy, reality orientation, and cognitive games.

Dementia and CST

CST is an effective treatment for individuals with mild to moderate dementia. It is a non-pharmacological intervention that does not involve medication, making it a safe and accessible treatment option.

Research studies (Franchi 2016; Li et al., 2023) have found that CST can improve cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, and language skills, in individuals with dementia. It has also been shown to slow down the progression of cognitive decline in some cases. Additionally, CST has been found to have a positive impact on mood and behavior, reducing symptoms of depression and agitation.

Moreover, CST can also provide social interaction for individuals with dementia, which is crucial for their overall well-being. Group CST sessions allow socialization and engagement in a safe and supportive environment.

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy strategies

Here are some examples of CST treatment methods that are effective in improving cognitive function and quality of life for individuals with dementia:

Reality orientation boards

These boards provide daily information to individuals in a visual format (myHealth Portal, n.d.). It includes date, weather, location, and individual’s personal information, acting as a constant cognitive stimulator.

Multi-sensory experiences

This method uses various sensory stimuli to enhance the cognitive stimulation of individuals (Li et al., 2023). It includes activities that engage the senses, like listening to music, tactile exercises with various textures, or engaging with aromatic ingredients during cooking activities. These activities are particularly beneficial for individuals with moderate dementia.

Themed activities

Group CST treatment often involves themed activities like memory games, word puzzles, and other cognitive challenges. These activities provide cognitive stimulation and promote social interaction and a sense of accomplishment (Saint Louis University School of Medicine, n.d.).

Individual cognitive stimulation therapy

This personalized approach helps individuals with mild to moderate dementia maintain cognitive abilities (Saint Louis University School of Medicine, n.d.). Activities are tailored to the individual's interests and abilities, encouraging active participation and enhancing the benefits of cognitive stimulation.

When to use CST

Here are some factors to consider when determining whether cognitive stimulation therapy may be beneficial for an individual with dementia (Aguirre et al., 2013; Toh et al., 2016):

  • Stage of dementia: CST is most effective in individuals with mild to moderate dementia. It is less likely to have a significant impact on those with severe dementia.
  • Cognitive abilities: CST is designed to stimulate and improve cognitive function, so it may not be as effective for individuals with advanced cognitive decline.
  • Social interaction: CST groups provide opportunities for social interaction, which can benefit individuals with dementia who may be isolated or have limited social engagement.
  • Interest in activities: CST involves engaging in various activities. Therefore, the individual with dementia must be interested in participating in these activities. Other approaches may be more appropriate if they lack interest or resistance.
  • Resources and support: Availability of resources and support is also crucial. Both group and individual CST require trained therapists, and the sessions must be regular and consistent for maximum benefit. Ensuring these resources and support are available before initiating CST is important.

Limitations of Cognitive Stimulation Therapy

While CST has shown to have significant benefits for individuals with mild to moderate dementia, As mentioned earlier, CST may not be as effective in individuals with severe dementia (Li et al., 2023. Therefore, other approaches may need to be considered for this population.

Moreover, while there is evidence that CST can have short-term benefits (Toh et al., 2016), further research is needed to determine its long-term impact on cognitive function and quality of life. Additionally, there is a need for more research on individual CST to assess its effectiveness compared to group CST.

Another limitation of CST is the availability and accessibility of trained therapists and CST training. Due to the specialized nature of this therapy, not every healthcare setting may have access to trained occupational therapists or other professionals who can lead CST sessions. This can limit the use of CST as a treatment option for individuals with dementia.

Further research is needed to explore the potential benefits and limitations of maintenance CST and the optimal frequency and duration of CST sessions for maximum impact. Additionally, more research is required to determine CST's effectiveness in different stages and types of dementia.

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Aguirre, E., Hoare, Z., Streater, A., Spector, A., Woods, B., Hoe, J., & Orrell, M. (2013). Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) for people with dementia—who benefits most? International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 28(3), 284-290.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for PTSD - American Psychological Association.

Cochrane. (n.d.). Can cognitive stimulation benefit people with dementia? Cochrane.

Franchi, B. (2016). Pharmacological management of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research, 46(3), 277-285.

Cove, J., Jacobi, N., Donovan, H., Orrell, M., Stott, J., & Spector, A. (2014). Effectiveness of weekly cognitive stimulation therapy for people with dementia and the additional impact of enhancing cognitive stimulation therapy with a carer training program. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 9, 2143-2150.

Holden, E., Stoner, C. R., & Spector, A. (2021). Cognitive stimulation therapy for dementia: Provision in National Health Service settings in England, Scotland, and Wales. Dementia (London), 20(5), 1553-1564.

Li, X., Ji, M., Zhang, H., et al. (2023). Non-drug Therapies for Alzheimer’s Disease: A Review. Neurological Therapy, 12, 39–72.

myHealth Portal. (n.d.). Reality Orientation for Individuals with Dementia.

Orrell, M., Hoe, J., Charlesworth, G., et al. (2017). Support at Home: Interventions to Enhance Life in Dementia (SHIELD) – evidence, development and evaluation of complex interventions (Programme Grants for Applied Research, No. 5.5.). Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library. Chapter 2, Maintenance cognitive stimulation therapy. Retrieved from

Physiopedia. (n.d.). Cognitive Stimulation Therapy. Physiopedia.

Saint Louis University School of Medicine. (n.d.). Cognitive Stimulation Therapy. Aging Successfully.

Toh, H. M., Ghazali, S. E., & Subramaniam, P. (2016). The Acceptability and Usefulness of Cognitive Stimulation Therapy for Older Adults with Dementia: A Narrative Review. International Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2016, 5131570.

Commonly asked questions

Who can benefit from cognitive stimulation therapy?

Individuals diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, can significantly benefit from CST. This therapy slows cognitive decline, enhancing cognitive skills.

How is CST delivered?

CST can be delivered in group sessions (group CST) or individual sessions (individual cognitive stimulation). The group sessions often involve small groups of people engaging in themed activities, providing a platform for social interaction and mental stimulation.

What does a CST session look like?

CST sessions are typically designed around themed activities that stimulate cognitive abilities. These activities may range from discussions. Puzzle-soling to multi-sensory experiences. A reality orientation board is commonly used in sessions to help participants keep track of time, date, and place.

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