21 Practical Cognitive Tasks That Work

Let’s delve into cognitive treatment, the bread-and-butter for many speech-language pathologists working with adults!

You wrote great goals. But how do you choose treatment activities that meet these goals—but are also functional?

We got you! To up your treatment game, read through the 21 practical cognitive tasks below.

And don’t forget to download the expanded guide.

functional cognitive tasks for adults pdf
For even more treatment ideas—plus 6 bonus worksheets—download our free guide, Functional Cognitive Tasks for Adults!

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Keep It Functional

functional cognitive tasks

Remember to keep your treatment functional. Worksheets can be a great starting point but graduate to practical tasks as soon as possible.


Because the goal of treatment is to help patients become as independent and safe as possible. It’s fun to improve Sudoku skills. But it’s even better to improve safety with medication management!

Encourage Daily Homework

  • Remind patients to complete their “brain exercises” at least 15 minutes every day.
  • You may get improved follow-through with homework if you frame the importance of cognitive treatment as “Use it or Lose it.”
  • When possible provide printed handouts. Print on neon paper then laminate to avoid them becoming damaged or lost.  

21 Practical Cognitive Tasks

Handouts, Worksheets, Treatment Guides, Eval Templates, Documentation Guides, Goal Banks, and much more

1. Set Alarms or Phone Reminders

functional cognitive activities

Patients can create alarms and reminders to wake them up, take medications, eat meals, call the pharmacist, or refill a pillbox.

Use cellphone alarms. Write simple directions for how to add or edit an alarm, then have patients review and practice the steps.

You can also program smart home devices, such as Amazon Echo™ with Alexa, with alarms and reminders.

2. Fill Out Pillboxes

Several great practical cognitive tasks can center around medication management.

You can teach patients how to fill a pillbox, how to set a daily reminder, and how to memorize a list of their medications and the purpose of each.

Encourage your patients to be systematic when filling out their pillboxes.

Provide the medication management handout and teach your patients the following steps:

  1. Fill out your pillbox at the same time and day every week
  2. Turn off the TV, silence your cell phone, and avoid having conversations while filling out your pill box
  3. Place all your prescription bottles on the left side of the table
  4. Open up all the compartments of the pill box
  5. Take one prescription bottle and fill in one week’s worth of pills
  6. Double-check your work
  7. Place the bottle on the right side of the table
  8. Complete steps 5 through 7 for the rest of your medications

If the patient needs help, make sure a nurse or a family member is filling their pillboxes until they can do it safely and independently.

3. Meal Planning

meal planning speech therapy

Help patients create meal lists and grocery lists for the week. Have them set reminders for when they’ll go grocery shopping.

For inspiration, pick a weekly ad from the local grocery store and review it with your patients.

Unfortunately, malnutrition is not uncommon in older adults. Connect patients to Meals on Wheels or other comparable community programs if they are unable to consistently feed themselves.

4. Follow Recipes

If your patient enjoys cooking, a great functional task is to follow recipes.

Bring recipes in magazines or books or print out a few simple recipes from the internet.

Sometimes, you may even have enough time to make a nice snack during your session!

5. Use a Smartphone

smartphone dementia

Although many of our cognitive patients have smartphones, they may not know how to use basic features such as Silence, Alarms, Calendar, or Calculator.

Show your patient how to find the instructions for each online, then write simple, step-by-step directions for them to follow. Focus on one cellphone feature at a time.

For more ideas, read 10 Activities Using A Smart Phone.

6. Use a Landline

Help patients learn how to listen to voicemails on a landline and how to delete them. Some patients may benefit from learning how to program numbers on speed dial.

Place simple, step-by-step directions next to the voicemail box to help them remember how to use the system.

7. Browse The Web

Review how to open web browsers, use search engines like Google, check email, and close tabs.

Even these seemingly simple tasks can be life-changing for motivated patients.

8. Update a Calendar

printable calendar cognitive therapy

An ongoing practical cognitive task for patients is updating their calendars. Teach them how to:

  • Add new dates and appointments to their calendar
  • Cross out the dates and/or appointments once they’ve passed
  • Review their calendars regularly

You can find calendars at dollar stores or print them online for free.

See Speech Therapy Activities Using A Calendar for more affordable treatment ideas.

9. Read the Newspaper or Magazine

functional visual scanning tasks

Some patients prefer to read a physical newspaper or magazine, although the small print and cramped content can be hard to attend to.

Use simple, sustained attention techniques during reading:

  • Train your patients how to use finger scanning
  • Teach them to cover the parts they aren’t reading with a blank piece of paper
  • Encourage them to read every word aloud

See How to Treat Visual Neglect for more reading strategies.

10. Read Advertisements

Use reading strategies with paper or digital advertisements.

Review ways to keep track of the items the patient is interested in buying. They can circle items with a red marker or highlighter or make a list.  

11. Sort Through Mail

After an inpatient stay, such as at a hospital or a skilled nursing facility, patients tend to receive a torrent of mail. These often end up in unorganized piles throughout their home.

Help your patients get organized by having them divide their mail into 3 smaller piles:

  • Keep pile
  • Maybe Keep pile
  • Throw Away pile

Next, closely review the Maybe Keep pile and help the patients thin down their mail even more.

Encourage further organization with labeled bins to sort their mail into every day. Help them set a reminder on their phone or calendar to sort through the mail in the bins every week.

12. Financial Management: Pay bills

practical cognitive tasks for speech therapy

You may need the patient’s Power of Attorney (POA) or a family member’s help and permissions, but if a patient is cognizant and mentally clear, financial management can make great practical cognitive tasks.

Your patient may want to learn how to use her credit cards to pay bills online or over the phone.

Or you can teach them how to use and download apps or bookmark bill-pay websites for credit card companies, utility companies, medical clinics, etc.

For all financial management tasks, refer to your company’s guidelines for obtaining permissions. As always, respect your patient’s privacy and preferences.

13. Financial Management: Organize Bills 

Work on financial management skills to:

  • Help patients organize paperwork and/or digital communications (e.g. electronic bill-pay reminders)
  • Create a system so that they can independently manage their finances

Teach patients how to:

  • Write due dates on their calendars
  • Set bill-pay reminders on their smartphones
  • Organize bills into paid and unpaid piles
  • Keep careful track on their calendar of when and how bills were paid, etc.

14. Financial Management: Set Up Automatic Payments

financial tasks after stroke

Helps patients set up auto-pay via phone, app, or website.

15. Financial Management: Balance a Checkbook

Review how to balance a checkbook with your patient.

Ideally, practice with an enlarged printout of the check balancing table until your patient becomes more independent with this task.

16. Medication Management

Our patients often have medication lists from the hospital, skilled nursing facility, or primary care provider’s offices.

Provide a blank Medication Management form and teach patients how to keep track of and organize their medications, vitamins, and supplements, the purposes of each, dosages for each, and what time to take each.

Teach patients how to remember to take their medications:

  • Keep a routine. Take your medications at the same time and place every day
  • Make a list of all your medications. Include what they’re for, what dosage to take, and what time of day you should take each
  • Use a pill box
  • Place reminder notes where you’ll see them: On the bathroom door, refrigerator door, coffee pot, etc.
  • Use alarms. Program a reminder each time of day you need to take your medications
  • Use a calendar: Write reminders to take your medications and cross them out only after you’ve taken your pills. Also, mark when to call to request a prescription refill

More Medication Management Activities.

17. Call Offices for Information

practical cognitive tasks for adult speech therapy

Create practical cognitive tasks around important phone calls. Guide your patients through the process of getting information over the phone.

Here are several problem-solving ideas:

  • How to find the right phone number
  • How to track down the right person to talk to
  • What questions to ask
  • How to write down any pertinent notes during the call

18. Read the TV Guide

Some of our patients still receive physical copies of the TV Guide. For many, it’s fun reading material.

Turn reading ‘The Guide’ into a cognitive task. Have patients:

  • Scan for specific shows
  • Plan what they will watch and when. Make it a calendar task
  • Memorize the times and channels of these shows

19. Make a Phone List

Help patients organize important phone numbers. These may include:

  • Children
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Therapists
  • Other medical providers
  • Banks
  • Insurance companies
  • Etc. 

20. Use an iPad (or Other Tablet)

Many well-meaning family members buy their loved ones high-tech devices. But these devices often gather dust because our patients don’t know how to use them!

If your patient expresses a desire to learn how to use their iPad or tablet, then create practical cognitive tasks around it.

For example, use spaced retrieval to help them learn how to unlock the iPad.

Once they are more proficient with the device, teach them to set alarms, check their email, read books, or even download free brain games for their home exercise program.

21. Use Smart Speakers, like Amazon Echo™

using a smart speaker for speech therapy

This is another well-meaning purchase from family members who hope that a smart speaker will make their loved ones’ lives easier. Unfortunately, many patients can’t remember how to activate it, much less use it!

Spaced retrieval can help patients remember these details.

You can design other practical cognitive tasks using a smart speaker, such as setting up alarms and reminders.

* Note the patient’s dexterity. Do they have difficulty pushing buttons on a calculator? Gripping a pen? Refer to occupational therapy if you suspect difficulties with fine motor skills.

What About High Level Cognitive Tasks?

high level cognitive tasks

1. Working Memory

What about high level cognitive tasks for those with milder cognitive deficits?

These are your patients who may be going back to work or school, managing their own homes, and/or raising families.

If appropriate for them, add in working memory tasks. Working memory is the ability to hold information in short-term memory while doing a task.

Examples of working memory tasks:

  • Have the patient listen to information and then repeat it back to you
  • Have the patient take notes while on a phone call
  • Have the patient read and navigate on a paper map

2. Executive Functioning

If your patient has an executive functioning deficit, choose practical cognitive tasks that improve these skills.

Examples of higher-level executive functioning tasks:

  • Compare online reviews to choose a service (e.g., Yelp or Google reviews to choose a restaurant or cleaning service)
  • Pack for a trip (consider the occasion, season, carry-on or checked baggage size, etc.)
  • Make a checklist for ongoing tasks and follow it (e.g., make a study guide for a test, get the kids out of the house on time every morning)

More Resources for Practical Cognitive Tasks

Visit our shop for cognitive worksheets and treatment ideas that were designed for speech therapy patients. These materials are easy to read, the right level of challenge—and empowering for your patients!

A quick recap! Here are the 21 Practical Cognitive Tasks:
1. Setting alarms or phone reminders
2. Filling out pillboxes
3. Meal planning
4. Following recipes
5. Using a cellphone
6. Using a landline
7. Web browsing
8. Updating a calendar
9. Reading the newspaper
10. Reading advertisements
11. Sorting through mail
12. Paying bills
13. Organizing bills
14. Setting up automatic payments
15. Balancing a checkbook
16. Medication management
17. Calling offices for information
18. Reading the TV Guide
19. Making a phone list
20. Using a tablet
21. Using Amazon Echo

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