Brain Games for Seniors

Can brain games for seniors help in avoiding, postponing or at least lend a substantial hand in mitigating Alzheimer’s debilitating symptoms? While research on this remains inconclusive, more and more scientists and physicians are championing use of brain fitness games for seniors as a means to handle dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive function related diseases.

Physical exercises keeps one healthy and fit. Can brain games help seniors in combating brain related diseases and conditions? This is the primary question scientists are working overtime to answer.

Yearly, the US spends an average of 157 billion$ USD on dementia related costs. This number is set to soar to almost double by the year 2040 due to the aging population. With current research and medical practices, the best we can hope for is to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia diseases, or help manage it in a more humane and accepting way. Brain games for seniors features prominently in this approach.

Previously the medical field was of the opinion that brain and cognitive capacity peaked at a young age and after a certain arbitrary age, there was a slow and steady decline in cognitive functioning and capacity. However, this thinking has since gone an about turn and scientists now have reason to believe this is just not true. Dr Dubal, the head of Neurology in University of California is of the firm belief that brains are capable of development and learning new skills even when they are much older. This is welcome news for those working to aid seniors in coping with dementia and other conditions that attack cognitive function and thinking.

Benefits of Brain Games for Seniors

In one recent research, seniors in different groups underwent varied brain stimulation through everyday activities – one group focused on learning to quilt, another tried to learn digital photography while yet another learned both. And in another test group, seniors were asked to do mundane activities and receptive tasks like doing crosswords or reading newspapers, but no active learning was involved.

At the end of the 14 week trial, all the group members were tested thoroughly for memory and cognitive capacities. The group that had engaged in more active learning roles – learning to quilt, handle digital photography software and do crosswords and learn new skills scored best in all the tests.

Clearly there is a direct correlation between simple brain games for seniors and an improvement in cognitive capacity and brain health. The real takeaway is to challenge the brain to learn new skills without asking for too much. Frustration at inability to master a new skill is harmful but a gentle challenge to the brain to push it to develop new thinking and reasoning can be highly beneficial.

While doing crosswords and reading on up on a new subject can be insightful and help develop knowledge, it relies too much on passive participation – that is, drawing on knowledge we already have. However, pushing the brain to learn a new skill, or teasing the brain to learn easy  games for seniors for instance can induce it to grow and develop in an entirely new direction altogether. With far reaching benefits for dementia and Alzheimer’s care.

Types of Brain Games for Seniors

Brain games for seniors come in a variety of formats from classic board games seniors played in their youth to modern technology games played on phones, tablets and computers. Seniors can also turn everyday activities into brain games by challenging themselves to memorize shopping lists and items in a room or on a desk. Games can also be adapted to different difficulty levels and rules can be adjusted. To increase the difficulty of games, seniors can be challenged to spell answers and add points in their head. To decrease difficulty, seniors can pair up on teams, time limits can be extended, and for some games, multiple choices can be offered.

Memory Games

Memory games help the brain focus on recalling recently acquired information. The classic card game of Match is a great game for seniors to play with young grandchildren. Recall, which won the the Academics' Choice Mind Spring Award and can be adapted to different difficulty levels, encourages seniors to use visual clues in pictures to identify hidden images. The electronic game of Simon encourages seniors to follow color and sound patterns. Likewise, Bop-It is another electronic game that prompts seniors to use memory to follow directions to bop, twist and pull the object. While Bop-It is a great way to build fine motor skills and promote concentration and speed of information processing, it may be not be suitable for seniors with arthritis.

Word Games

Word games include games where seniors find hidden words, fill in missing words, build words and use descriptions or definitions to identify words. While some word games, such as word searches and crosswords are more passive, other word games provide an interactive experience. With just a paper, pencil and partner, seniors can guess letters to fill in the missing word in Hangman. In the same vein as Scrabble, Upwords is a letter-tile game in which players not only build words across, but also up by stacking tiles atop existing words; the game also encourages the use of addition and multiplication to score the high-towering words.

Handheld Electronic and App Games

Hand-held electronic and app games give seniors a chance to exercise the brain when they are alone, and the portability of these games means they are playable anywhere, including in a doctor's waiting room or in bed. These games can be played against a computer, and in some cases, against other online players. From an app store, seniors can also download the apps of their favorite game shows, such as Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud. Hand-held electronic card games encourage seniors to use math and strategy to win, and some games are available in senior-friendly mega screens that use larger buttons and graphics.

Board Games

Board games challenge seniors to use a variety of strategies and often involve a bit of chance. Chess and Checkers encourage players to visualize future moves of pieces and weigh the pros and cons of the consequence of each move. Mathable is math game using tiles to create addition, subtraction, multiplication and division equations in the same way Scrabble uses letters to create words. Quirkle is a newer board game that flexes the brain to match colors and shapes while also using math and strategy to achieve the highest scores. Quirkle, which won the Mensa Select Award, is simple enough for children to learn but challenging enough for adults of all abilities to play.

Online and Video Games

Online and video games includes everything from platform and 3-D building video games to online games from senior and health organizations specifically designed to improve brain power. Research from a number of studies has found that playing video games like Super Mario and Minecraft improves hand-eye coordination and engages the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory. Interactive Wii and X-Box Kinect games also promote physical fitness. AARP's Staying Sharp website has a variety of games that encourage seniors to match colors and shapes, find their way through mazes, identify geographic locations and match sounds to images. At the Easter Seals website, a trial of BrainHQ from Posit Science offers seniors a selection of 25 brain exercise games.

Trivia Games

Trivia games encourage seniors to recall information from history, including names, dates, people and places. While trivia games often focus on historical events, they can also center on favorite areas of interest, such as music, movies, animals religious studies and pop culture. Playing trivia games also encourages memorization of new information. While Trivial Pursuit and all its variations (including decade-specific games, such as 1960s trivia) is the classic game, it is far from the only choice. Great for group play with children and grandchildren age 12 and up, 5-Second Rule and Smart Ass are lively games that encourage seniors to spit out answers and work under time constraints.