A Place for Mom
Assisted Living
Memory Care
Independent Living
Veteran Resources

Make the best senior care decision

Senior Care Home Memory Games: Improving Seniors’ Brain Health Through Playtime

By Grace StyronMarch 28, 2022
Share this article:

As part of a larger holistic approach to memory care, brain games for memory care residents can be a powerful way to improve brain health. Incorporating enjoyable, mind stimulating activities and brain games as part of a healthy lifestyle, in coordination with other methods, can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline as you age, according to the Global Council on Brain Heath.

Disguising dementia and Alzheimer’s care as a fun activity, brain games can help improve a senior’s word recall, focus, alertness, and problem solving — all while you and your loved one spend quality time together.


In this article:


Tabletop games: A classic pastime with surprising health benefits

Beloved games like chess and solitaire are more than fun pastimes and friendly competition: They can help noticeably improve a senior’s brain function and have a number of other health benefits, recent studies show.

Most notably, they help reduce agitated behavior and increase cognitive performance in seniors with memory loss. The mental workout and social engagement of these activities also contribute to a decrease in the risk of developing dementia. They can also help reduce loneliness and improve quality of life.

Try playing these games to engage with your loved one:

  • Chess involves complex planning, strategizing using an array of specific moves, and countering an opponent’s surprising attacks.
  • Scrabble is excellent for early stages of dementia, especially when played with larger tiles. It fosters language play through tile shuffling, not just vocabulary retention.
  • Snakes and ladders, an ancient Indian classic of climbing ladders and sliding down snakes, involves the use of counting skills via rolls of dice and provides a sense of accomplishment and overall fun.
  • Dominoes, played by matching like numbers on one half of a game piece to those on another,is a notably social game that encourages anticipation and excitement. It also hones number and pattern recognition simultaneously.
  • Bingo stimulates multiple senses, including hearing, sight, and touch. It promotes social interaction, and it can easily be modified based on personal abilities by using smaller or larger cards, playing multiple cards, etc.

Newer board games on the rise

As new studies in dementia-related brain games emerge, so do new memory care games for seniors. They’re just as effective as the classics, but with some fresh new twists.

When you’re ready for something new, try out the following stimulating board games:

  • Qwirkle flexes the brain through tactical strategy and forward thinking. It provides a challenge while still being easy to play. This game involves matching colors and shapes while also using math and strategy to achieve the highest scores. It helps players hone recognition, planning, and problem-solving skills.
  • PicLink involves 36 photo tiles that can be categorized by subject and color. The game is designed to improve a player’s short-term memory and ability to associate like attributes while encouraging engaging conversation.
  • Call to Mindis designed specifically with memory care patients in mind. With easy-to-understand rules, this game guides players through reminiscence and conversation. It boosts morale and self-esteem for all players and improves memory recall. Moreover, it gives caregivers insight into the thought process and emotions of loved ones with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.

It’s important to consider the following when shopping for a new game for your loved one:

  • Overly complex games can cause confusion and frustration, potentially drawing more attention to what your loved one can’t do rather than what they can.
  • Time-sensitive games can add unnecessary pressure and stress.
  • Some games include small pieces that can present a choking hazard.
  • Games with loud noises or bright lights and colors can cause discomfort and agitation in those with dementia.
  • Too much physicality may lead to stress, confusion, or aggravation.

Puzzles

Puzzles are a fun, low-stress activity for seniors that promote visuospatial cognitive abilities. This refers to the ability to imagine objects, create large shapes out of small components, and understand differences and similarities between objects. Puzzles also engage touch perception, which is the brain’s ability to understand sensations and information coming from the skin. They can help reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and distract busy, wandering minds.

Perfect for time alone, or as a group activity for an added element of connection and socialization, here are some different puzzles your loved one might enjoy:

  • Sudoku is a great number puzzle game that can strengthen short-term memory, pattern recognition, and general critical thinking skills. Careful thought and concentration are essential to complete each puzzle. This benefits a person’s working memory and overall mental function. Carefully introducing an online, timed version of the game may help improve response speed.
  • Wooden tangram puzzles come with different shapes of laminated wood pieces that a player matches to a template. The game engages fine motor skills, improves thinking skills, sharpens visual-spatial awareness, and enhances creativity. Tangrams are also meditative and soothing, helping reduce stress and anxiety caused by mental decline.
  • Jigsaw puzzles come in a variety of sizes and complexities, which makes them perfect for seniors with both early- and late-stage dementia. Jigsaw puzzles help reduce stress, encourage fine motor skills, and improve visual perception. Studies indicate that, over time, they may also help players improve their processing speed, mental flexibility, and episodic memory. This is a person’s ability to recall specific, life-shaping memories like their first day of school or a first kiss.

For an added effect, try creating your own puzzle with an image that’s meaningful to your loved one. Whether it’s a cherished family photo or a picture of their favorite vacation spot, the image will add sentimentality and help spark nostalgic memories for your loved one.

Card games

Card games like solitaire, blackjack, crazy eights, and go fish are perfect for older adults. They’re fun, inexpensive ways to connect with friends, and they stimulate the mind.

Benefits of card games include the following:

  • Encourage socialization and friendly competition
  • Stimulate the brain through mental math, problem solving, and encouraging quick response times
  • Exercise the fingers and hands through shuffling, dealing, and discarding
  • Are adaptable for mild cognitive decline by adjusting gameplay or using large print playing cards

Word games

Word games encourage attention to detail and reduce stress. Searching for words in a grid can improve a senior’s visual and spatial perception. The games also build problem-solving skills, brainstorming, and use of critical thinking.

Some of the most popular word games include:

  • Word searches
  • Crosswords
  • Hangman

While word games can be fun and mentally stimulating, keep in mind that they could also cause stress or agitation in seniors with late-stage dementia. As you play, stay aware of your loved one’s behavior, and recognize when it’s time to stop.

To help make these games more approachable, make sure the word puzzles have large print and don’t use diagonal or backwards words. This way, the game remains easy but still challenging enough to hold your loved one’s interest.

Professionally developed printable memory care games for seniors

The simplest games can be the most beneficial for seniors with dementia. Printable games are an easy, inexpensive source of fun for senior caregivers on a budget.

“I know from [more than 20] years of working in the activity department in facilities for seniors that there is always a budget,” says Jenny McBride, lifestyles assistant at Fleming Farms, an assisted living and memory care facility in Alabama. She’s also the sole creator of the online Etsy shop, Senior Reminiscing Fun. She sells printable, homemade memory games for seniors and their caregivers.

“Working in activities, there were times I wanted a resource and ended up creating my own to fill the need. I decided that if these things I was creating were of some good value, maybe other facilities or organizations that work with seniors can use them as well!”

McBride established her online shop of just over 80 games in August 2021. Since then, she’s made nearly 800 sales. Here are a couple of her top-rated games:

  • Brain Games for Seniors is the shop’s best-selling item and has earned “Best Seller” status on Etsy. Brain Games for Seniors includes a variety pack of 15 memory care games. The pack includes word searches, word scrambles, math games, and vocabulary fun.
  • Penny Pass, McBride’s second-best seller, is a reminiscence game for seniors. This game involves placing pennies on small cards. Each card has a unique question related to past experiences. If the player recalls a memory listed on the card, they either take the penny or pass it to the next player.

McBride says reminiscing is great for the overall health of seniors with dementia.

“Anytime they can recall a memory they hadn’t in a while, it brings back confidence and joy. It’s about celebrating the little things for them that they are able to do and encouraging them to try new things.”

Research-supported brain training and innovative phone apps

Online, research-driven, brain-training apps are seemingly everywhere now, and studies are beginning to note their benefits. More and more, it seems these specific apps may help improve the ability to complete day-to-day tasks, like shopping and managing finances, and they may generally help keep the mind sharp.

The following top-rated online games help reduce stress and provide a sense of accomplishment while targeting skills like a senior’s response speed, problem solving skills, and ability to strategize.

  • Lumosity is a leading phone app featuring over 50 brain-training games and puzzles. Each challenge tests memory, attention, flexibility, and problem-solving skills.
  • BrainHQ is a brain-training app built on years of research in neurological science and related medicine. It delivers a variety of online exercises that work out attention, brain speed, interpersonal skills, navigation, and intelligence.

A recent study on brain training smartphone apps actually showed seniors who played BrainHQ experienced sizable improvement in executive function, working memory, and reaction time.

The future of brain training: Biometrics and beyond

New, exciting developments are occurring in a field called biometric gaming. The central idea behind biometric gaming is using a player’s physical data to enhance their gaming experience. These games may someday be able to gather pulse, blood oxygen levels, and other data, then feed them into an algorithm, which can direct the game to either continue encouraging a reaction in the player or work to prevent it. In other words, if calmness is the desired outcome, the game could read the player’s biometric data and create an environment that supports calmness. Furthermore, the cognitive benefits of biometric gaming in relation to dementia are proving notable.

Think this all sounds far-fetched? The basic science is already in use in games that adapt their difficulty level as the player progresses — that is, these games get harder if a player is performing well, or easier if they’re not. This means the game or app may deliver an optimal experience which increases the likelihood the player will enjoy it or improve while using it.

Why memory games?

Whether you prefer electronics or the tried-and-true classics, any investment in a memory game is an investment in the prolonged comfort and well-being of your loved one. There are no clinically proven ways to reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. However, memory games can help combat normal, age-related mental decline.

If you’re concerned about taking care of someone experiencing memory loss, it may be time to seek expert care. Reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom to find the right care option for your situation.

Sources:

Butcher, J. (2008). Mind games: Do they work? British Medical Journal.

Fissler, P., Küster, O. C., Laptinskaya, D., Loy, L. S., von Arnim, C., & Kolassa, I. T. (2018). Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive AgingFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Global Council on Brain Health. (2017). Engage Your Brain: GCBH Recommendations on Cognitively Stimulating Activities.

Gulland, A. (2015). Brain training games help older adults perform essential tasks, study findsBritish Medical Journal.

McBride, J. (2022, March 9). Personal communication [Personal interview].

Meltzer, J. A., Kates Rose, M., Le, A. Y., Spencer, K. A., Goldstein, L., Gubanova, A., Lai, A. C., Yossofzai, M., Armstrong, S. E. M., & Bialystok, E. (2021). Improvement in executive function for older adults through smartphone apps: A randomized clinical trial comparing language learning and brain trainingAging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition.

Miltiades, H. B., & Thatcher, W. G. (2019 February). Individuals with Alzheimer’s learn to play a tile placement game: Results of a pilot study: Innovative practice. PubMed.

Mitchell, H. R. (2015). Dementia, Music and Biometric Gaming: Rising to the Dementia ChallengeLeonardo Music Journal.

Sood, P., Kletzel, S. L., Krishnan, S., Devos, H., Negm, A., Hoffecker, L., Machtinger, J., Hu, X., & Heyn, P. C. (2019, January 3). Nonimmersive Brain Gaming for Older Adults with Cognitive Impairment: A scoping review. The Gerontologist.

Venturelli, M., Magalini, A., Scarsini, R., & Schena, F. (2012, September 13). From Alzheimer’s disease retrogenesis: A new care strategy for patients with advanced dementia.American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

Wilson, R. S. (2011). Mental Stimulation and Brain Health: Complex, Challenging Activities Can Support Cognitive Health in Older AdultsGenerations: Journal of the American Society on Aging.

Author
Grace Styron

Related Articles