Researchers continue to believe that playing what they call “brain training games” can help keep the mind sharp. They may not prevent a brain from normal aging, but they can help keep a brain healthy, alert and finely tuned. These mentally stimulating games can play an important role in aging well.
Mentally challenging brain games -- cards, puzzles and board games -- are good for seniors who may have mobility issues because they don’t involve a lot of physical activity. What they do involve are fun, intellectual and social forms of stimulation.
The Importance of Brain Games for Adults
Studies demonstrate that card games, puzzles and board games are good mental stimuli and help promote brain health. This is especially true for older adults. Games also stimulate the immune system and can trigger the use of visualization, memory and sequencing skills.
Many games also involve socialization and verbal interaction. We know that games can also help mitigate boredom and depression, both of which can cause cognitive decline. They can be fun activities that involve family and friends. This social dynamic also helps keep the brain active and engaged.
5 of the Best Card Games for Brain Health
Experts on aging like to say that “playing your cards right” can help keep your mind sharp long after retirement. While this is a play on words, they’re right. Playing card games can improve short-term memory as well as long-term memory. There are cards games of varying difficulty levels you can choose from:
- Bridge. The best card games are those that demand memory, strategy and attentiveness. Bridge is one such game. It teaches logic, reasoning, quick thinking, patience, concentration and partnership skills. Bridge also involves at least 4 people so there is a valuable social component to the game as well.
- Go Fish. Card games don’t have to be as complex as bridge to help with mental acuity. Even simple card games like Go Fish help exercise the brain.
- Gin Rummy. This is an old favorite that’s easy to learn but requires careful attention. A player needs to track what cards have picked up and which have been discarded.
- Poker. Organize a poker night for your family and make sure your parents come! Play games like 5 Card Draw or Texas Hold 'em.
- BlackJack. These card games can be a lot of competitive fun. They also require concentration and visual memory.
- Solitare. Even a game of Solitare can be a good brain game. However, card games that involve others also promote socialization. This interaction with others is known to help promote brain health as well as emotional well-being.
Other Great Games for the Brain
The New England Journal of Medicine studied people over the age of 75 who engage in brain-stretching board games. These people were less likely to develop dementia than their peers who didn’t play these games. Some great games that are good exercises for the brain are:
- Checkers. A classic game that can be played with grandkids.
- Chinese Checkers. Work the problem-solving muscle by figuring out how to move the marbles when moves seem limited.
- Mahjong. Popular with the ladies and strategically demanding.
- Backgammon. This game requires critical thinking to beat your opponent.
- Dominos. This requires thinking ahead and concentration.
- Bingo. A simple game but one that usually involves a lot of other people which is an added advantage.
- Chess. Probably the most mentally challenging board game. There are groups that meet up to play chess, which is great for meeting new people.
- Scrabble. Word games like scrabble require creativity and the ability to recall words.
- Crossword puzzles. If you or your loved one are new to crossword puzzles, you don’t need to start with the rather daunting New York Times puzzles. Try a book of simpler crossword puzzles to tackle as you master the art of the crossword.
- Sudoku puzzles. If numbers are more your thing, try solving one of these great logic puzzles.
- Jigsaw puzzles. These are both visually as well as mentally stimulating.
- Word searches. Buying a book of these can provide hours of entertainment.
- Brain teasers. Buying a book of riddles is another fun game. Your loved one can solve them by themselves or use it as an activity with grandchildren.
Memory Games Online: The Digital Age of Brain-Training
While the traditional card and board games remain very popular, we now also have digital brain-training games. They have become all the rage. A $6 billion industry to be exact! They can be played on your computer or any mobile device – a laptop, tablet or smartphone. These digital brain games offer a wide array of puzzles and problems to solve.
They can be played for hours or merely minutes, whenever the whim strikes. In today’s digital world where almost everyone has a digital device, you don’t even need another person to engage in a game. What could be more convenient?
Some of the most popular online brain games are:
- Lumosity. Used by over 60 million people worldwide, this app offers cognitive and scientific games designed to improve memory and stimulate the brain. Free in the iOS app and Google Play stores.
- Dakim. A “brain fitness program” that offers more than 100 mental exercises, games and puzzles to give the brain a workout. These games are specially designed to improve attention and concentration.
- Fit Brains Trainer. This platform includes 360+ games and puzzles to enhance memory, focus and brain speed. This app adjusts to get more difficult as you get better. Free on Google Play and the iOS app store.
- Cognifit Brain Fitness. These are fun brain games designed by neuroscientists. You can start with a personal cognitive assessment and track your progress. Free in the iOS app store.
- Brain Trainer. Play language and math games, speedy shape games and much more. This app allows you to tailor your gaming experience to personal goals like problem-solving, memory, attention and agility. Free in Google Play and iOS app stores.
- Brain Metrix. This is a free web service with a large collection of games focusing on concentration, color, IQ, spatial intelligence, memory and creativity.
These are games that help keep an aging brain fine-tuned with the added benefit that they can be played anywhere, anytime and without anyone else. That being said, I am an advocate of “cross training” for the brain. Aging minds need this sort of mental stimulation but they also need social interaction to promote healthy aging. Healthy longevity and brain health can also benefit from exercise and a healthy diet. All of these elements together can help ensure that our minds remain functional and well-tuned, even as we age. Games by themselves cannot “make you smarter” or “prevent dementia” but they are a great addition to a well-rounded, brain-healthy lifestyle!