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The facts about Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST)

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy is an increasingly popular and successful way to treat the symptoms of mild to moderate dementia. It’s also very enjoyable. Find out all the basic information you need to know

In a nutshell

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) is a programme of themed activities, usually carried out over several weeks in small groups, led by a trained nurse, an occupational therapist, or a carer. Each session covers a different topic and is designed to improve the mental abilities and memory of someone with dementia. The evidence so far suggests that Cognitive Stimulation Therapy could be just as beneficial as drug treatments for the symptoms of dementia.

Three facts worth knowing

1. Cognitive Stimulation Therapy is the only non-drug treatment recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).
2. The programme is usually carried out over 14 sessions, each lasting around 45 minutes and containing structured discussions and group activities. Groups are deliberately small, often consisting of only five to eight people.
3. Cognitive Stimulation Therapy is often carried out in nursing homes, memory clinics, or day centres. The programme is usually led by a professional who has been specially trained.

What actually happens

Each session follows the same structure, though the theme changes. Topics might include childhood, food, current affairs and using money. Different activities will be offered around each theme, for example, one week the activities might involve word puzzles or games, another week playing a musical instrument. The group should provide a supportive atmosphere and the activities should offer a range of multi-sensory experiences…and be fun.

Evidence it works

A trial in 23 care homes and day centres showed that CST led to ‘significant benefits’ in mental ability and memory, similar to the benefits of taking medication for symptoms of memory loss. Further research revealed that CST could also make a significant impact on language skills such as naming, word-finding and comprehension. They also saw an increase in confidence and psychological well-being.

What happens next?

Once the 14-week programme ends, a longer term ‘Maintenance CST’ programme is recommended, consisting of 26 weekly sessions. Recent trials suggest that people who participate in the maintenance programme are still feeling the benefits up to six months afterwards.

TIP: Since it’s endorsed by the Government, many NHS Trusts do now routinely offer CST, but not all of them. So ask your GP, community nurse, or any other health care professional involved in your treatment plan, if CST is available in your area.

Good to know

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy can also be carried out one-to-one or at home but you need to learn how to do it. To find out how it’s done you could consider taking part in a research programme which might teach you the vital skills needed.