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Play These 9 Brain Games to Stay Sharp and Improve Memory

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Forgetfulness is a natural part of aging, but there are many things older adults can do to slow down the process — specifically brain games. Much like physical activity to keep your body in good shape, keeping your brain active is important in all stages of life. Brain games and puzzles serve as excellent mental exercises that can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia, and they're a great way to improve problem-solving skills. If you or a loved one are in need of some effective brain games, check out our list to stay sharp and keep your mind working!

The Importance of Brain Power

According to the American Psychological Association and Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist Glenn Smith, training individuals in cognitive skills such as brain games can lead to significant benefits in memory and attention cognition.1 Through his research, Smith tested a computerized brain-training program in adults over the age of 65 for eight weeks that was designed to improve the speed and accuracy of auditory information processing. The participants who completed the computerized training showed much greater improvements in tests of memory and attention, as well as improvements in their daily lives.

From the Pros: AARP reports that older adults who incorporate regular physical activity into their routines possess higher levels of brain proteins that enhance the connectivity between neurons, in turn improving memory.2

Types of Brain Games

There are a variety of brain-game formats to integrate into your routine. Board games, for example, can provide tremendous nostalgic value, as well as multiple strategies. Memory games can help your brain focus on acquired information, word games provide an interactive experience, and trivia games can encourage you to recall information from history or other areas of interest.

In addition to traditional game styles, research shows that video games can significantly enhance cognitive health in older adults. The National Institute on Aging conducted a study with individuals between ages 60 and 80 using three-dimensional game Super Mario, two-dimensional game Angry Birds, and classic card game Solitaire.3 Over four weeks, participants played these games up to 45 minutes per day while researchers conducted a series of memory tests. After only two weeks of engaging in Angry Birds and Super Mario, recognition memory improved significantly.

From the Pros: AARP's Staying Sharp website offers older adults a variety of games that involve matching, maze navigation, and other brain exercises.

From classic board games that provide nostalgic value to technology-based games that can be played on cell phones or tablets, you can challenge yourself — and your brain — in many ways.

Nine Brain Games to Stay Sharp

Scrabble

Scrabble

Scrabble is excellent for increasing brain power, and it can also be a great way to improve vocabulary. If you or a loved one has Parkinson's disease, tremors, or vision problems, Scrabble boards come in large-letter versions with secured tiles for easier use. If creating words from scratch and healthy competition are up your alley, Scrabble is the perfect brain game to have on your shelf or smartphone.

Solitaire

solitaire

Technology is a large aspect of everyday life, and many classic card games are available online for tech-savvy individuals. Whether you fly solo or play this game with others, solitaire helps train your brain to notice patterns and gives your memory a healthy workout.

Checkers

Checkers

Easy to learn and fun for everyone, checkers is another helpful classic for people looking for less strategy and more simple hand-eye coordination and process of logic. The game also comes in jumbo sizes, which can be helpful for seniors who struggle with arthritis or need more visual assistance.

Pro Tip: Read our guide to optimizing brain health for more ways to keep your mind in tip-top shape.

Chess

Chess

Chess is much more strategic than checkers, and it challenges the brain to think ahead and predict plausible outcomes. The game is typically played with two players, but you can also challenge your computer or online players to a game.

Jeopardy

jeopardy

If you enjoy family game nights, Jeopardy is an excellent choice. In this quiz-based game, players are presented with clues in the form of answers and must phrase their responses in the form of a question. Jeopardy challenges individuals to use their knowledge of historical events, facts, and areas of interest, which makes it fun to play and great for the brain.

Crossword Puzzles

Crossword

Challenging your mind and its recall ability with a crossword puzzle is excellent for cognitive stimulation. Another classic, crosswords are available both in print and digitally. Research shows that doing crossword puzzles on a regular basis can improve the ability to focus on desired tasks, executive function, and working memory in older adults.4

Did You Know? According to Health IQ, a large study showed that individuals who do crossword puzzles regularly showcase a cognitive function 10 years younger than their actual age.

Sudoku

Sudoku

Sudoku is another puzzle game that is excellent for keeping your mind sharp by engaging your logical thinking skills and cognitive abilities. It also encourages players to use parts of the brain that aren't necessarily used on a regular basis, such as the frontal lobe, which is responsible for manipulating sequences of numbers and letters. That helps individuals keep their minds active to think in a sequence, solve problems, and plan accordingly.

Nintendo Wii

Wii

If you are keener to use technology and looking for ways to stay active, video games and console systems are not just for teenagers! The Nintendo Wii is a home video game console well known for active gaming and fitness games. Due to their ability to get players up and moving, Wii games are very popular among multigenerational homes. They are also staples on activity calendars at senior centers and assisted living facilities. Games include options such as interactive tennis, bowling, baseball, and Wii Fit.

Brainwell Mind Brain Training

Brainwell

Brainwell is a free app that includes a variety of games that train and assist the brain to build memory, attention, and critical-thinking skills. Players receive three new games every day to keep them engaged, but you can also subscribe to a premium plan that provides access to over 50 cognitive training games to stimulate attention, memory, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions.

Tool Tip: Brainwell determines your starting point with a simple fitness test that will help the app develop a personal training program. In addition to playing daily games, Brainwell allows users to track their progress, monitor performance, and challenge others to beat your top scores. Signup is completely free!

Final Thoughts

As we age, our brains need a bit more stimulation and regular maintenance to stay sharp, which is why many seniors may benefit from brain games. Any of the games on our list will challenge the brain and make use of different cognitive functions to help improve overall functionality and quality of life. Whether you are interested in board games or cards, puzzles or word searches, classics or tech-savvy software, there are brain games for everyone — so be sure to take advantage!

Written By

Taylor Shuman

Senior Tech Expert & Editor

For over five years, Taylor has been writing, editing, and researching products and services covering topics such as senior care and technology, Internet and the digital divide, TV, and entertainment, and education. Her research on media consumption and consumer behavior has been… Learn More About Taylor Shuman

Citations
  1. American Psychological Association. (2014, Oct). Mind games.

  2. AARP. (2022, Mar 2). 5 Exercises That Can Keep Your Brain Sharp.

  3. National Institute on Aging. (2020, Sept 24). Video games show potential in improving key aspects of memory in older adults.

  4. Health IQ. (2020, Dec 21). Brain Health: Learn the Brain-Boosting Benefits of Crossword Puzzles.