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CST: The perfect exercise this Brain Awareness Month Post Cover Image

Exercising the mind is an amazing preventative measure that can help stave off cognitive decline – much like running can help manage one’s risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.

While putting your brain through its paces can help reduce the chances of developing dementia mate wareware, it can also be just as beneficial after a diagnosis.

One form of mental stimulation – Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) – is such a workout, that participants have shown noticeable improvement in cognitive function and in their quality of life.

CST recently celebrated 10 years in Aotearoa New Zealand. This was marked with a community of practice earlier this month, hosted by Dementia Learning Centre Director Dr Kathy Peri and University of Auckland Associate Professor Gary Cheung.

CST dates back to a 2001 PhD thesis of Professor Aimee Spector of University College London and has now become the only non-medical therapy for people with mild to moderate dementia mate wareware.

The structured treatment programme runs twice weekly across seven weeks, stimulating participants’ minds in an optimal learning and social group environment.

Activities include word association, categorisation, number games, and discussions on universal topics such as food and current affairs. The underlying concept is “use it or lose it” – that the brain needs to be exercised – with activities calibrated to be challenging enough to stretch participants, but not so much as to make them feel helpless.

“The theory is that targeted mental stimulation can lead to the development of new neuronal pathways,” states the latest World Alzheimer Report, produced by Alzheimer’s Disease International.

So, a dementia mate wareware diagnosis is not the end of your journey but the start of a new one, says Kathy.

She helped establish CST in Aotearoa New Zealand and has watched as the therapy has changed the focus of care for people with dementia mate wareware.

“CST is a viable treatment with so many benefits. We know, thanks to feedback from facilitators that we’ve trained and mentored, that they have found the programme has made a significant difference in a lot of people’s lives,” says Kathy.

So important is CST as a valid intervention treatment, Kathy and Gary developed an online version – Aotearoa New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to pioneer this- during the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak.

“The problem is funding – there isn’t any to ensure CST is more widely available in delivering equitable, person-directed, culturally appropriate and quality assured support for people with dementia mate wareware, family and whānau, and care partners.

“If Aotearoa New Zealand is to support the ever-increasing Kiwis who live with dementia mate wareware to live their best possible lives, we need to prioritise prevention and post-diagnosis support with more funding.”

CST is used in at least 38 countries around the world. Last year, the therapy was tailored specifically for Māori with mild to moderate mate wareware thanks to Dr Makarena Dudley (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu), a researcher at the Centre of Brain Research at Waipapa Taumata Rau.

Brain Research New Zealand, Ageing Well, and Health Research Council helped fund the project with collaborations from Clinical Psychologist Dr Tai Kake (Ngāpuhi), Alzheimers NZ’s Dementia Learning Centre Director Dr Kathy Peri, and School of Medicine Associate Professor at the University of Auckland Associate Professor Gary Cheung.

Caption: A recent Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) workshop in Timaru for providers in the region including Alzheimers South Canterbury