If you have suffered a brain injury or stroke, cognitive rehabilitation exercises should definitely be a vital part of your recovery.
Cognitive problems can not only affect a person’s ability to care for themselves, but it can also make it much more difficult to succeed at work, home, and school.
Because these difficulties impact so many areas of life, we’ve put together a list of 11 cognitive rehab exercises – adapted from Brain Injury Association guidelines – that will help you retrain your brain and gain some independence!
We’ve tried to include a good mix of exercises that address the most common cognitive issues, such as attention, memory and problem solving skills.
But if none of these apply to you, be sure to stay tuned till the end where we will discuss other cognitive rehabilitation options.
Attention and Concentration Rehabilitation Exercises
The first category of cognitive exercises we’ll cover are attention and concentration exercises.
These exercises will help you improve your ability to focus and pay attention to more than one thing at a time.
Some of these exercises will require help from another person such as a caregiver or family member.
1. Repeat Numbers and Letters (Beginner)
Caregiver, say a list of letters or numbers in a slow, steady tone of voice and ask the person who has suffered the brain injury to make a mark on the paper every time they hear a certain number or letter.
2. Rhythm matching (Intermediate)
One person should tap out a simple, two-step rhythm several times with their hand on the table (tap-delay-tap-tap). The person with the injury should try to match the rhythm.
If this seems too easy, both of you should turn your chairs around so you are not facing each other. This way you can only focus with your auditory processing.
3. “Add 3, Subtract 7” (Advanced)
Pick any 2-digit number, then add 3 to that number three times.
Next subtract 7 from that final number, then repeat.
This exercise is great because your brain must attend to and hold on to several details at once. It also helps you get better at processing and organizing information.
4. Sit outside and journal (Intermediate)
Sit outside, and write down everything you see, hear, and smell. This engages areas of the brain that are not usually active and will help improve your concentration.
If you have difficulty writing, you can also speak what you observe out loud. The important thing is to just pay close attention to your surroundings.
Cognitive Rehabilitation Exercises for Memory Skills
These exercises can be used to help you improve memory function.
5. Picture Recall (Beginner)
For caregivers, place two different cards from a deck of playing cards face up and let the person view them for 5 seconds. Turn the cards face down.
Now ask them to point to the cards that are named (“point to the Queen”). Every once in a while ask for a card that was not shown.
Increase the number of cards to a max of 5 as the person progresses.
6. Naming Therapy (Intermediate)
This therapy is often used to help people suffering from aphasia recall words, but it’s also a great way to improve memory in general.
One good naming therapy exercise is to have someone else write down several general headings (such as tools, animals, plants, countries, occupation, foods, sports, etc.)
Then try to remember and name (verbally or in writing) as many items in that category as possible.
For caregivers, if the person with the brain injury is stumped, you can give hints. For example, if they can’t come up with any animal names, you can tell them to think of a farm or zoo, etc.
7. Grocery List (Advanced)
Have someone go to the grocery store with you and tell them to choose 2 or 3 food items.
Then, go and find those items without writing down what the person said. As you improve you should increase the number of items you must memorize, until you can recall 7 items.
8. Card Recall (Advanced)
Select four playing cards in sequence (3 of clubs, 4 of clubs, 5 of clubs) and place in random order face up. After five seconds turn the cards face down.
Then turn the cards over in sequence (3, then 4, then 5).
As you improve increase the number of cards in the sequence, allowing one more second of view time for each card added, to a maximum of 7 cards.
Problem Solving and Strategy Cognitive Rehabilitation Exercises
The following exercises can be used to help you improve your problem solving and planning skills.
9. Making Change (Beginner)
Caregivers, give the person some coins and ask them to tell you which coins would add up to 35 cents, 54 cents, etc.
10. Color Sudoku (Intermediate)
Color Sudoku stimulates similar pattern and logic areas of the brain as number Sudoku does, but is easier for people who might still have trouble manipulating numbers.
11. Tower of Hanoi (Advanced)
The Tower of Hanoi is a great mathematical puzzle that can improve several cognitive abilities.
The puzzle consists of three rods and at least 3 disks. (The more disks there are, the harder the puzzle is.)
The goal of the puzzle is to move all the disks over from the first rod to the third without having a larger disk end up on top of a smaller one.
This not only engages the logic and problem solving areas of your brain, it also requires you to plan ahead and strategize, which helps train executive functions.
Other Cognitive Rehabilitation Options
We have only covered a few of the many, many different cognitive exercises you can do to sharpen your mental skills and regain more independence.
But we know sometimes you might need something more in-depth or personalized. You also might need to learn different tactics that will help you compensate for lost functions.
That’s why we recommend seeing a cognitive rehab therapist to help you get the perfect treatment you need.
Many speech-language pathologists are also trained in cognitive rehab techniques, so it may be a good idea to work with one and get a combination of speech and cognitive therapy in one session!
If you are not able to see a specialist in person, there are also several online apps that offer engaging and exciting cognitive exercises that you can do at home.
These cognitive rehabilitation apps are great tools to help you retrain your brain and maximize your quality of life.