“Being locked in your house with few social contacts is detrimental to mental health”

During the quarantine period, the confinement in the homes and the lack of physical activity affected the physical state and many people went to virtual training classes to stay in shape.

But it is not only important to take care of the body. Mental health was also greatly affected by confinement, stress, and the uncertainty of the situation.

“The isolation, routine, and lack of physical activity together with the uncertainty and fears that this pandemic and quarantine situation generates directly affect our physical and mental health,” explains Dorpinghaus.

“Pre-existing cognitive difficulties become more acute or new difficulties begin to appear due to symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress”, he assures. Therefore, it is necessary to take care of the psyche and train the mind.

Under this premise, the psychologist Andrea Dorpinghaus and the speech therapist Paola Pastorini Gayol decided to give cognitive training online, with the aim of keeping the mind in shape during quarantine.

Especially intended for people with memory and attention problems, among other functional weaknesses, the course proposes “stimulate cognitive functions to the maximum without leaving your home ”.

In any case, the workshop is aimed at all those who seek to stay “cognitively fit”, regardless of whether they present any symptoms of functional weakness.

What is a cognitive training program?

A cognitive training program is a device designed to stimulate and exercise cognitive functions and provide techniques and strategies aimed at improving their performance and effectiveness.

Today we are working with a program of 12 sessions of two hours per week via zoom, where different cognitive functions are worked on every day, with different types of materials and stimuli. Then, material is sent by mail to continue exercising at home the rest of the week.

What are the cognitive functions of the human being?

Cognitive functions are all those skills required to be able to handle ourselves properly in our life. They are those that allow us to perceive our environment, concentrate, maintain and distribute attention, learn and remember information, plan and organize ourselves in situations, plan and solve problems, perform calculations, and understand and use language to communicate with others. In other words, the cognitive functions are perception, attention, memory, language, and executive functions.

Who is the cognitive stimulation program or workshop for?

The workshops are organized by levels, after an interview by zoom or video call and are aimed at all those who seek to stay cognitively in shape regardless of the difficulties they present, the latter being the ones that will determine the choice of the group in which they will be integrated and the goals to work on.

Did you previously work in person and had to adapt due to quarantine?

For more than 20 years we have been working in person, performing group and individual rehabilitation and cognitive stimulation, both in health centers and in private offices. Due to the quarantine, we started to carry out the activities by zoom.

How does the period of confinement affect our mental and cognitive health?

The isolation, routine, and lack of physical activity together with the uncertainty and fears that this pandemic and quarantine situation generates directly affect our physical and mental health. Pre-existing cognitive difficulties become more acute or new difficulties begin to appear due to symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress.

What can be done to prevent the appearance of failures in cognitive functions?

There are several things we can do in terms of prevention:

  • Avoid isolation: we are social beings and having human bonds protects the brain.
  • Perform physical exercise daily. Physical activity is known to directly affect the brain. Cardiovascular activity generates new brain connections, and improves mood.
  • Keeping the mind active: learning new things, exercising cognitive functions with novel stimuli.
  • Manage stress.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Get eight hours of good sleep, if possible.

Does the time we spend in front of a screen, which increased considerably during the quarantine, does it affect our functionalities at all?

I understand that all excesses can lead to different problems. Recently, several studies have come to light regarding how new technologies affect health. On a physical level, for example, in relation to screens and light, as well as in relation to postures.

But I understand that many of these difficulties can with time and the right elements be minimized. Technology in its proper measure also brings many benefits. Being locked in your house with few social contacts is detrimental to mental health and new technologies allow us a different way of connecting with others.

At the level of interactions by zoom, we have seen, for example, how at first it was difficult for people to communicate, because the brain is not prepared to be alone at home and at the same time accompanied by another on the screen.

The delay in communication, connection difficulties or vision, reduce the interpretation of the non-verbal aspects of communication making it difficult, however continuity in practice improves performance and little by little people adapted and getting more out of interactions, being able to carry out activities and interact with others improving mood in all cases.

In addition to physical health, mental health is important. Do you consider that the latter is more devalued?

It is my impression that mental health is not being considered as a priority at this time, which is in my opinion a big mistake that will have consequences in the future. Therefore, it is important that each of us be attentive to how we are feeling and ask for help in time if we need it.

What things affect our cognitive functions the most? What can we do to reinforce them?

The cognitive performance of people tends to decrease with age, this is part of the normal course of life, however, it is necessary to differentiate normal from pathological aging.

Normal aging is one that occurs without neurodegenerative pathologies and the cognitive deterioration that appears is attributable to the changes that occur in the healthy brain as we age.

When one speaks of pathological aging, on the other hand, it refers to the presence of some neurodegenerative disease and in which one suffers from a cognitive deterioration greater than that expected for the age of the subject.

This cognitive impairment may be associated with neuroanatomical and neurophysiological changes produced by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia or others. Or related to other diagnoses that may precede the development of dementia or remain relatively stable, such as mild cognitive impairment, among others.

In what it does to day to day, the lack of a good rest, isolation and the lack of interactions, routines and absence of novel stimuli, as well as the presence of stress or pictures of depression or anxiety, decrease cognitive performance. Hence the importance of staying active and connected with others during these difficult times that we have to live.

What are the most obvious failures at the level of cognitive functions?

The most frequent cognitive difficulties are usually difficulties concentrating or paying attention to two things at the same time, which leads to “forgetting” due to lack of recording of what was being done. Going to look for something in a place and not knowing what to look for, forgetfulness due to automatisms that make one not register whether or not they have already taken a medication, whether or not they closed the door, forgetting words, the feeling of having something on the tip of the tongue, but not being able to express it, among many others.

Being aware of the different difficulties is usually associated with failures typical of normal aging and they do not significantly alter the activities of daily living. On the contrary, when difficulties affect different areas of people’s lives and one notices that they intensify rapidly, it is important to consult a neurologist to carry out the pertinent studies.

Online cognitive training

Lic. Andrea Dorpinghaus – Psychologist
Lic. Paola Pastorini Gayol – Speech Therapist

+549 11 45590637
+549 11 56455177

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