First, a disclaimer: while there are no “best” memory games for seniors, it has been proven that they can help sharpen the mind and build up cognitive functions. Choosing games to try will depend upon you or your loved one’s cognitive abilities and more importantly - what you find fun!
Do Games Help Cognition and Memory?
Do cognitive games have any significant impact on memory? The short answer is yes!. Studies show that brain games may help sharpen specific thinking skills that tend to decline with age, including processing speed, planning skills, reaction time, decision making, and short-term memory. Memory games work by exercising your memory and building cognitive reserve.
Your cognitive reserve is the equivalent of having something extra in the tank when you need it. One way to augment and improve mental reserve effects is to add some physical exercise to your memory game activities. The combination of memory games and movement has the most significant impact on cognitive reserve. Now that we know how valuable memory games are let’s look at a few:
- Sudoku. Sudoku is a fun number placement game where you have to anticipate, concentrate, and follow trails of consequences. It requires the ability to view an entire board and anticipate where to place numbers. Sudoku can be played on paper or online and has varying degrees of difficulty.
- Crossword puzzles. These classic puzzles test not only verbal language but trivia knowledge as well, allowing you to improve your vocabulary while enhancing your memory. Crossword puzzles come in most newspapers but are also available online.
- Luminosity (and other online brain games). Luminosity is a great option for those who prefer games online or on mobile devices. The online activities were developed in neurocognitive testing labs and they are now customizable to your abilities and adapted for widespread use. A free version of Luminosity is available on the web, iOS, and Android. Other brain fitness and cognitive programs to check out are Brain Age Concentration Training, Queendom, Peak, and Happy Neuron.
- Word games. The classic word game is Scrabble and the adapted version Quiddler. If you don’t have anyone to play scrabble with, no worries, the online version of Words With Friends is available for you to play solo!
- Card games. Card games are great for brain health due to the varying levels of difficulty. There is the more challenging game of bridge, or easier games like gin rummy, old maid, solitaire, and UNO. Again, many of these games are available to play online against other people or solo.
- Jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles have a calming effect on some people, while others might find it frustrating. A jigsaw puzzle can be done alone or with other people of all ages who drop by to participate for a few minutes. You can even turn a personal photograph into a jigsaw puzzle for your loved one using Shutterfly!
- Chess or checkers. Chess was first played in the 7th century and is now a global phenomenon. You may have seen people playing outdoors or people matching their wits against a computer. If chess is too strenuous, checkers is a great alternative!
- Taboo. If you are looking for an option to play in groups - try out Taboo! Each team gets a word and they use clues to get their teammate to guess the word. The added layer is that certain clues are taboo, or off-limits. This timed game definitely requires some quick thinking.
- Word search. Word searches emphasize pattern recognition. This activity involves finding letters in a grid where words are hidden within a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal system. Sometimes a list of the hidden words is provided, and other times not. Word searches can be played on paper or online, and often have themes.
- Learning new activities. Cognitive stimulation doesn’t just involve games. Any new and novel activity is good for the brain and mental health. For some, this might be starting a new hobby or learning a new language, reading and joining a book club, or an activity-based hobby like yoga, dancing, or Tai Chi. Trying a new exercise can improve brain health as well. The idea is to try something completely new, which will be challenging at first until you get comfortable with it, then it will be time to try something new again!
Trying out new memory games can be frustrating at first, but don’t let it get you down!
It is important to choose activities within your reach but challenging at the same time. Be patient, and you will reap the rewards of mental stimulation, improved memory, and a better mood.