Board games, video games, card games and puzzles. Chances are, you’ve owned one or the other, and that’s a good thing. Playing games can encourage socialization, improve concentration and increase knowledge. Better yet, it has been shown to pump up your memory, fighting the onset and progression of dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. With more than 28 million baby boomers expected to develop Alzheimer’s between now and 2050, making a plan for family game nights could be a smart move.
Just like the muscles in your body, the brain will atrophy – waste away – if not exercised regularly. The brain requires a solid workout routine to grow strong nerve tissues for support. You don’t have to be in school or on the job to do it. Growing and stretching the brain can be done at every stage of life, wherever you are.
The brain also needs the chemical dopamine to promote learning and memory. Dopamine production has been shown to increase in the brain when a person solves puzzles. Challenging and stretching the brain regularly pushes the mind to grow and develop in new directions for better brain health.
Now that you know how to help, here’s how to do it. Pick the platform that’s right for you or your loved one, and make it a habit to play the game.
Easy to play and fast to find on your grocery aisle, word games bring people together or let you fly solo for a daily brain boost. There are crossword puzzles, hidden words searches, fill-in missing words, word building and more. One study published by the Journal of International Neuropsychological Society found that late life crossword puzzle participation, independent of education, was associated with delayed onset of memory decline in persons who developed dementia.
Board games are here to stay with fun, new options released each year. Seniors, in particular, benefit from the varied strategies they offer, with just the right level of chance. For decades, checkers and chess have tested strategic planning and focus, along with the consequences that go with them. Qwirkle, winner of the Mensa Select Award, uses math and strategy to match colors and shapes for improved cognitive health. Trivia games encourage players of all ages to dig deep under tight timelines for the win. And the family puzzle, often taking days to complete on the kitchen table, has been cited to improve visual recognition, while also strengthening short-term memory.
Video, online and electronic games
Beginning with the original Atari game, Pong, from 1972, video and online gaming has come a long way, especially when improving brain power for seniors. Nintendo Wii is often used in rehabilitation programs to build cognitive skills including memory. Recall, winner of the Academics’ Choice Mind Spring Award, uses visual clues in pictures for seniors to identify hidden images, with options to increase difficulty. Bop-It prompts a player’s memory to follow directions to bop, twist and pull an object. Popular shows testing math and strategy, like Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud, can be found online and played easily at home or on the go from your tablet.
Brain training programs
Designed to make the most of a person’s cognitive skills, brain training programs are becoming more available, providing promising outcomes. Lumosity, used by more than 60 million people worldwide, is offered free in the Apple App Store and Android Play Store. Its cognitive and scientific games improve working memory and strengthen the ability to solve tasks.
Brain Metrix is another free program, providing a large collection of concentration, color, IQ, spatial intelligence, memory and creativity games to stretch the brain for routine workouts.
To enhance memory, focus and brain speed, Fit Brains Trainer gives you access to 360 games and puzzles, cleverly designed to become more difficult as you improve. You’ll find it available free on Google Play and the Apple App Store.
While having fun with your new and improved game time, it’s important to remember that dementia is not just something that just happens in the later years of life. Many factors play a part in brain health and risk over a span of years, with the most prevalent being physical fitness, cardiovascular health and nutrition. It’s important to pay attention to all of the pieces of the puzzle.