These Exercises Have Helped With My Sister’s Cognitive Issues

Jo Gambosi avatar

by Jo Gambosi |

Share this article:

Share article via email
overcome obstacles | Parkinson's News Today | hero | A banner image for Jo Gambosi's column

My sister Bev, who has stage 3 Parkinson’s disease (PD), was diagnosed in 2017. She currently faces cognitive challenges, including issues with decision-making and short-term memory.

The Parkinson’s Foundation notes that cognitive impairment is common among people with Parkinson’s, and the “same brain changes that lead to motor symptoms can also result in slowness in memory and thinking.”

It’s important to note that cognitive impairment is not the same as dementia, which occurs when multiple areas of cognition are affected, causing a loss of abilities that can significantly impact daily life. Bev has not been diagnosed with dementia.

Recommended Reading
illustration of a brain with Alzheimer's disease

Study Finds No Differences in Cognitive Abilities Between Sexes

As Bev’s disease progresses, I’ve wondered if there are interventions that can help people with cognitive issues. After conducting some research and talking with my sister, I’ve learned that both physical and cognitive exercises can help lessen the severity of symptoms.

Exercises for cognitive impairment

Even a moderate amount of physical exercise can benefit us all, including those with neurological diseases like PD. Harvard Health Publishing notes that, “Exercise boosts your memory and thinking skills both directly and indirectly. It acts directly on the body by stimulating physiological changes, … along with encouraging production of growth factors — chemicals that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance, survival, and overall health of new brain cells.” One way Bev practices movement therapy is by dancing, which I wrote about in June.

Nutrition can also play an important role in promoting better brain function. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that adhering to a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, and other items, is associated with improved cognitive function.

In terms of brain exercises for people with PD, one option is doing games and puzzles such as word searches. Bev has a booklet of word searches that she keeps on her end table next to the couch. At times, instead of turning on the television, she will turn to the puzzles to work her brain. Just don’t ask either of us to play sudoku!

The American Parkinson Disease Association suggests several brain exercises in which a person must look at a group of images and try to categorize them or spot the differences. These activities remind me of the exercises websites may ask us to perform to verify that we are a human and not a robot. Think, “Select all the squares that include a bus.”

Another brain workout that helps my sister is adding or subtracting manually without a calculator. She sometimes asks me to double-check her totals, but I jokingly tell her, “I did not get the math gene, so I am using a calculator.”

Since we are both retired nurses, we made up a Scrabble game in which we can only use medical terms. So far, we are even on the winnings!

Bev has also started knitting again, although she said that it is sometimes difficult with her vision problems. She explained that it helps her to concentrate and focus. I think her dog, Izzy, now has almost 10 sweaters!

I am thankful that Bev has been able to practice these exercises. They not only seem to help with her memory issues and decision-making abilities, but have also improved her self-esteem.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Beth Browne avatar

Beth Browne

I am having memory issues. I was diagnosed in 2020, but we feel sure I had PD at least a year before. I had tremors, and sleep problems. My memory has gotten worse this year. I have anxiety at times. I started Rytary about four months ago. The Leva/Dopa in 2020 made me so sick I could not eat and lost weight. I only weighted 98, now 94. I lost my sense of taste last year before Thanksgiving. Some came back but still not good, so eating is not something I do a lot. I have osteoarthritis in my hands that are bent, and my neck, so being on my feet for long periods is difficult. I do stretching and balance exercises for an hour 2x a week where I live. I should be on the treadmill more, but I am on my feet most all day doing things.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.

Your Parkinson’s Community

Woman laying down illustration

Visit the Parkinson’s News Today forums to connect with others in the Parkinson’s community.

View Forums