The Efficacy of a Volunteer-Administered Cognitive Stimulation Program in Two Long-Term Care Homes: A Randomized, Controlled Study

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van Zon, Lorraine
Geriatric Cognition , Memory , Dementia , Volunteerism
Older adults who maintain their cognitive skills and abilities are able to live more independently than those whose skills have deteriorated. The costs (money, time, personnel) associated with providing cognitive stimulation programs to residents in long-term care homes often prohibit the delivery of these programs. The present study explored the efficacy of using volunteers to administer a stimulation program in two long-term care homes. The program focused on stimulating reasoning, attention, and memory abilities using uncomplicated, pen-and-paper exercises. Thirty-six resident participants and 16 volunteer participants were randomly assigned to one of two parallel groups, either the control or stimulation group. For eight weeks, three times each week, control group participants met for standard “friendly visits” (casual conversation between a resident and volunteer) and stimulation group participants met to work through a variety of exercises meant to stimulate the cognitive abilities of residents. Results were analyzed using a 2-way ANOVA and indicated statistically significant Group x Time interactions for Verbal Memory, Non-Verbal Memory, Learning, and in a screening test for verbal fluency. Volunteers completed a post-study questionnaire which indicated that the volunteers in the stimulation group found their skills-based interactions more stimulating for residents. Therefore this study demonstrates that a volunteer-administered cognitive stimulation program can provide measurable gains in the cognitive abilities of older adults. Further studies concerning the role of volunteers in the maintenance of the cognitive abilities of older adults are recommended.
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