Who doesn’t love to play a game?
It has been shown that people who experience memory loss can stimulate and engage their brain by playing games.
The games can be many, varied, and either high tech or low tech. As long as the senior enjoys playing them and is fully engaged, game playing will stimulate their brains health through participation.
Playing different types of games that require different skills will mean that the game should change with each stage of dementia. As the disease progresses, the game should as well so that they are able to participate without frustration. Becoming frustrated or angry about following rules or remembering strategy isn’t healthy, helpful, or fun.
Games that you play with your senior with dementia should be failure free. You don’t have to play by the rules or play a full game at one time. No one has to win or lose. It should just be fun. Perhaps they can choose from a few games you have on hand.
Benefits of Game Playing
Seniors and their family caregivers can all find benefits in a simple (or even more complex) game.
Playing games shouldn’t just be for kids. In fact, 25% of video gamers are over 50 years old.
There are physical, cognitive and emotional benefits that can be elicited through game playing.
- Game playing stimulates cognition in people with memory loss, helps to stimulate memories, and builds processing skills. Recognizing numbers, shapes, or colors is stimulating for our brains.
- Being physical, even when sitting in a chair to play games such as Wii bowling, ball games, or throwing darts, is good for aging bodies.
- Playing together with people in the family, friends, peers, or kids increases socialization. This can limit loneliness and push depression away.
- Connecting with others can give a senior purpose, especially if it is scheduled regularly.
- Laughing, a really good belly laugh, makes the brain, body, and soul feel good.
- Remembering playing specific games when they were younger or feeling like a winner when a game challenge is overcome is joyous. It can increase the mood and prevent depression and isolation.
- One research study found that playing brain stimulating games may reduce the number of amyloid plaques in the brain.
- Hand-eye coordination is improved when rolling dice and moving playing pieces across a game board
- Video exergames like Wii Fit were shown to improve balance
Types of Games for Memory and Enjoyment
Whatever game you and, especially, your senior loved one enjoy playing and are capable of doing without frustration is the one you should play. Perhaps there are several that you can rotate through to use different memory skills.
Here are a few examples of games that seniors will love:
Card games – more difficult skill level such as Bridge, Gin Rummy, Cribbage, or Hearts all the way to less complicated games like Uno, Old Maid, Solitaire, Go Fish, or Crazy Eights can be fun and stimulating depending on the skill level of all the involved participants; you may find that large print cards work better for your senior loved one
Board games – more difficult games of strategy for those in the early stages of dementia include Chess, Clue, Backgammon, Scrabble, Risk, Mah Jong, Yahtzee, or Trivial Pursuit; less difficult games for later stages and skill include Checkers, Candy Land, Trouble, Connect Four, Don’t Wake Daddy, or Kerplunk
Memory games – games where you must match pairs of like cards in any form or style, shape buddies, or word games such as Name 5, crosswords, Suduko, word search, jumble, PicLink, I Spy
Video or Computer Games – Smart Brain, Brain Age, Words with Friends, Sea Quest, Candy Crush, Tetris, Wordscapes, WordSearch, Magic Puzzle
Building games – Lincoln Logs, Jenga, Blocks, Block Buddies, Legos, Qwirkle, Jigsaw Puzzles, simple nuts/bolts or folding laundry, playdough, manipulatives like Tangram and Tangle games
Fun games – Bingo, Dominoes, Charades, Pictionary
Creative activities – arts and crafts, painting with acrylics or watercolors, finger painting, coloring with pencils or markers, free drawing, knitting, crocheting, ceramics
Sensory stimulation – touching objects, odor recognition, listening to and identifying sounds, Name that Tune
Movement games – exergames using video platform like dance party or Wii sports, darts, badminton, bowling, skee ball, ring toss, horseshoes, parachute, volleyball, bean bag toss, blowing bubbles, musical chairs, Bocce
Exercise – Tai Chi, yoga, calisthenics, jogging, walking, swimming, hiking, golfing, tennis, gardening, table tennis
Technology and Games
Low tech game activities will give all the benefits as described, but so will games that use available technology.
Family caregivers can set their senior loved one up with a tablet or smartphone to play some of these games. There are numerous apps that are free to play games such as puzzle building, crosswords, sequencing, cards, etc. Playing games on apps is a great way to entertain while you stimulate memory as well as pass the time.
Video game systems can be set up to play against others of your choice, such grandchildren who live in another location, state or even country! Playing against someone known to them from the comfort of their own living room could be the motivator needed to stay engaged.
Connecting on a tablet or smartphone to play games such as Words with Friends with family members is another way to encourage and motivate participation. Challenge them!
You can also play games with a senior on Facetime or Skype. Connecting on the tablet or computer with a grandchild and playing their favorite board game is entertaining for all. Either the child or the senior can have the actual game and move the pieces.
Remember, the purpose of the game is engagement and brain stimulation, not who wins or if the rules are being followed to the letter.
Improving quality of life for the person with dementia is the WIN — one that comes with bonuses for all who play!
If you want some game and activity ideas, you might want to check out that section of The Shop at Senior Care Corner.