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Easy Card Games for Dementia Patients: The Science Behind the Entertainment

By Mary SalatinoMay 4, 2022
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You loved one’s life changes when they develop dementia. You may have noticed they have a difficult time interacting with their surroundings or have problems with memory, thinking, language, and socialization.

Dementia affects nearly 50 million people worldwide, and it can be overwhelming to navigate, according to the World Health Organization. Dementia causes cognitive decline that affects daily life.

Although dementia cannot be cured, you can improve your loved one’s life through simple, engaging activities like card games. Playing card games can improve memory, cognitive skills, and socialization. Keeping your loved one with dementia mentally active can help them navigate the disease.

Here are some easy card games for dementia patients that will provide your loved one with socialization, sharpened cognitive skills, and overall well-being.

In this article:

The medical importance of card games for dementia

Individuals with dementia benefit from connection and stimulation, which is why playing games with your loved one is so important. Easy card games for dementia patients can:

  • Improve comprehension. Comprehension refers to mental abilities including thinking, learning, remembering, problem-solving, and more. Games may have a better effect on cognitive abilities — with fewer side effects — than other therapies like traditional psychological stimulation and drug treatment, according to the National Library of Medicine. Dementia impairs memory and cognition, which card games can help improve.

  • Boost mood. A variety of factors including decorationpaint colors, and surrounding stimuli affect a person’s mood when they have dementia. People with dementia are very sensitive to their surroundings. Playing games helps them focus on one specific task without becoming overstimulated or overwhelmed. This can reduce agitation and instill a sense of calm and focus.

  • Increase socialization. The interactivity of games allows players to communicate with each other, which increases social skills and offers a feeling of connection and community. Socialization can help combat loneliness, provide a sense of normalcy, improve brain health, and enhance a person’s ability to focus.

5 stimulating card games for dementia

These five games are best suited for seniors with early or mid-stage dementia but may be too complex for those with more significant cognitive decline. If your loved one has late-stage dementia but used to enjoy playing cards, even holding or looking through a deck may inspire tactile memories and positive feelings. Or, they might simply enjoy sorting the cards by suit or color, which is a relaxing activity that helps with motor skills, memory, and pattern recognition.

1. Go Fish

Objective: To collect as many sets of four cards as possible

Players: Two to six

The deck: Standard 52-card deck or a specially printed Go Fish deck

Gameplay: For three to six players, five cards are dealt. With only two players, each person gets seven cards. Remaining cards are placed face down in a draw pile.

On your turn, ask an opponent for a specific card (for example, “Do you have a nine?”). If the player has one or more of the requested cards, they give all of those cards to you. If your opponent gives you cards, you get another turn to ask the same or another player for a number. If the person you asked doesn’t have the card you need, they say “go fish,” and you draw from the deck. If the card you draw isn’t what you need, you keep the card and the game moves to the next player.

When you collect a set of four cards of the same rank, immediately show the set to your opponents and place the cards in front of yourself.

The person who collects the most sets of four wins the game.

How it helps dementia: This game allows players to find matches, interact with their opponents, and focus on strategy. Interacting with others improves socialization and language, and matching increases cognitive function by establishing connections and patterns.

2. Old Maid

Objective: To avoid holding the “old maid” card at the end of the game

Players: Two to eight

The deck: A standard 52-card deck. Remove three of the queens — the remaining queen is the old maid.

Gameplay: Deal the cards as evenly as possible among the group. Some players may have more cards than others. Players sort their cards and discard any pairs. The dealer passes their hand to the player to their left, face down. That player randomly takes a card from the dealer and puts the pair down if they have a match. If not, they keep the card. Play continues clockwise, and the process repeats until there are no more pairs and someone has the old maid.

When the old maid is the only card remaining, the game ends. The person holding the old maid loses.

How it helps dementia: This game focuses on creating matches and paying attention to avoid the old maid card. Matching games improve cognitive functioning by making connections and establishing patterns.

3. Crazy Eights

Objective: To get rid of all your cards

Players: Two to five

The deck: A standard 52-card deck

Gameplay: Deal five cards to each player. Place the remaining cards face down in the center, and flip over the top card to create a face-up pile.

On your turn, play a card with either the same suit or the same number on top of the face-up card. Or, you can play an eight, which allows you to choose what suit the next player has to play. The first person to get rid of all their cards wins.

How it helps dementia: This game encourages players to think about matching their cards and to use their eight card tactfully to change the suit for other players. Creating a strategy allows for problem-solving, which improves cognitive function. Problem-solving establishes connections in the brain that assist with memory and mood.

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4. Memory

Objective: To collect the most pairs of cards

Players: One to six

The deck: A standard 52-card deck

Gameplay: Shuffle the cards and place them face down on the table in a square or rectangular pattern. Play proceeds clockwise.

On your turn, flip over two cards. If they’re a match, keep the pair. If not, turn them face down, and play continues to the left. When all pairs are found, the player with the most pairs wins.

How it helps dementia: This game focuses on remembering the card placement on the table to win the most matches. Memory games helps boost cognitive function by recalling information and recognizing matches.

5. War

Objective: To obtain the entire deck of cards

Players: Two

The deck: A standard 52-card deck

Gameplay: Deal the cards evenly until the deck runs out, so each person has 26 cards. You and your opponent flip over your top card at the same time. If you have the higher card, you take your opponent’s card. Play continues until someone has the entire deck of cards in their hand.

How it helps dementia: This game focuses on recognizing which number is higher in order to take your opponent’s cards. This helps with memory loss because it requires players to recall which numbers are higher and which are lower.

Dementia-friendly cards  

All of the games above can be played with a regular 52-card deck. However, you can also purchase dementia-friendly versions of these card games featuring decks designed with dementia in mind.

Engaging with your loved one who has dementia is important in helping them navigate changes that come with memory loss. Providing easy card games for dementia patients may help them feel connected and engaged. It can also boost mood and slow cognitive decline.

If your loved one is struggling with a memory condition and you’re no longer able to care for them at home, contact A Place for Mom to speak with a Senior Living Advisor today.


National Library of Medicine. (2020, May 28). A Review on Serious Games for Dementia Care in Ageing Societies.

World Health Organization. (2021, September 2). Dementia.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal, or financial advice or to create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney, or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Mary Salatino

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