World Alzheimer's Month is the international campaign from Alzheimer's Disease International that takes place every September. During this month, people unite to raise awareness around Alzheimer's disease and all forms of dementia.
Alzheimer's disease by numbers
According to the National Library of Medicine and their study, Effectiveness of brain gaming in older adults with Cognitive Impairments, "an estimated 50 million adults live with the disease worldwide," and is expected to increase to 82 million by the year 2030. The study also notes that "despite the enormous financial and human cost of dementia, effective pharmacological treatment options remain unavailable."
To that, some alternative treatment options can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. For example, memory games to help stimulate the brain. The National Library of Medicine also studied the effects of games (non-electronic and electronic) as a form of therapy in dementia care research, saying that "In board games, players need to memorize things, communicate with each other, make reasonable inferences and so on, which can exercise one’s memory, improve language expression performance, cultivate social emotions and develop one’s reasoning abilities. Coincidentally, dementia impairs patients’ abilities of memory, cognition, emotional controls, which board games can help exercise. So, many researchers have applied board games to dementia care."
Brain games for dementia therapy
Gameplay as a tool for dementia patients
Playing games is undoubtedly a great tool to keep minds active and vocabulary strong in aging adults. Memory and brain games in particular, like word puzzles and searches, and concentration-style games that tap into a player’s short-term memory are especially helpful. Let's also consider how memories are made and how they stick, particularly long-lasting ones. This may involve a combination of actions that marries emotions with sensory experiences related to specific content.
Even better, gameplay often requires more than one participant, which increases social contact and connection in Alzheimer's patients. According to Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) and their article, Risk factors and risk reduction, "there are many factors which have been linked to the development of dementia," one of which is infrequent social contact. The article goes on to note that "it is well established that social connectedness reduces the risk of dementia. Social contact enhances cognitive reserve or encourages beneficial behaviors."
There are a variety of games that can be played and enjoyed by aging adults (and not-so-aging adults as well as kids, too!) to boost a range of skills that may help reduce the risk of dementia. So, next time the family gathers together, or plans are made to visit an aging friend or relative, make sure to pack a game or two to play. Not only are board games fun to play, but they can relieve stress, improve moods, enhance cognitive abilities, and help generations feel closer and more connected.
Below are some of our favorite word, memory, dexterity, and social games that help maintain mental and light physical agility in aging adults.
Brain games - memory and matching games
Memory games often rely on hidden elements, remembering a sequence, or digging up long-forgotten vocabulary. They can also require a player's short-term memory to go into overdrive!
- Amalgam uses a concentration-style format, but you aren’t trying to remember what is in the grid but rather what you take and put in your pile - face down. While Amalgam is a great strategy game, at its core, it’s a memory game as players try to remember what items they have already collected.
Puzzle and matching games let you work as individual players or as a cooperative-style game. The focus is on working with images and shapes to solve challenges and earn points. The game mechanic can be as simple as matching two sides of an object or manipulating complex images into new forms.
- Trifusion is a great example of a puzzle game played with bigger tiles and images which can be played solo, cooperatively, or competitively. It takes into account spatial reasoning, planning, and counting as players try to connect to the largest path of color for points. With hundreds of combinations and infinite strategies to win, it’s never the same game twice.
Brain games that help strengthen dexterity skills
Working with our fingers and hands helps keep fine motor skills nimble, a great practice for older adults. Often these games require balancing pieces, placing or removing pieces, or even a quick grab, all with potentially tragic consequences for your score if your actions cause the pile to spill! Rules, however, may be relatively straightforward so that they can be quick to learn and play.
- Kilter is a colorful wooden board game that uses two crossed teeter totters as the playing field. This adds a sense of challenge for dexterity as the field tips and dips while players try to add pieces. Knowing a little something about the science of levers and weight distribution is quite helpful.
- Dreaming Dragon is another game that challenges fine motor skills, focus, and self-control. Players must use a steady hand to help the lizards escape the dragon's nest, all without breaking the eggs or waking the dragon!
Social games for adults and children
Social games allow you to interact with your friends for the purpose of getting to know them better with light-hearted fun. You may share experiences, cooperate to solve a problem, or try to put yourself into the shoes of others.
- Eye to Eye is a game that focuses on identifying how we are alike and not how we are different. Ever try to guess what other people might say? For example, name three things found in your car’s glove compartment. You may just be shocked to learn what others store in those compartments. And it could be a great laugh!
- Take Your Pick & Take Your Pick II: Two fun and portable icebreaker games perfect for friend or family gatherings. These get to know you games are easy to learn and will keep you talking, laughing, and learning about each other for hours!
Word games make great brain games
Independent play opportunities are more often found within word games in the form of crosswords, word searches, and wordles, but many other forms of multiplayer word games exist and are well suited for aging adults. Quick-thinking word matches, story-building and telling, and vocabulary challenges all share the benefits of sharpening the mind.
- Word Bits is a quick and simple word game that can be just as much fun as a more complex word game while providing plenty of laughs. It focuses on spelling, quick thinking, and vocabulary; players spell words that match a specific category and have the correct number of matching letters.
- Chalk-A-Word is a word game that allows players to utilize their spelling and vocabulary skills to create new words or add to existing words already created by other players. The more words you know, the greater your chances of creating or building high-scoring words. It also strengthens planning and decision-making skills.