Just about everybody has played a board game, but did you know they can contribute to brain health? Some of the best-loved board games of all time include:
- Trivial Pursuit
- Chutes and Ladders
- Candy Land
Board games have enjoyed a resurgence in the last decade, with newer games vying for attention with the classics. Seniors may want to try playing:
- Ticket to Ride
- Hey, That’s My Fish!
A board game is good fun on a rainy day, or when a group of friends is looking for an entertaining way to spend an evening (of course, this was before we had the ability to be digitally connected 24/7!).
Support for Senior Brains
Beyond being fun, however, board games are a boon for senior brains. Research revealed the risk of developing dementia was 15 percent lower in board game players than in non-players. Board game players also had less incidence of depression than non-players.
What’s more, the reduced risk is sustained over time: 20 years later, the study participants’ brains were still healthier than those who did not play board games.
Why are board games so beneficial against memory loss? They enhance cognitive reserve, say scientists. Cognitive reserve is the brain’s ability to find alternate ways to get a job done. It means the brain learns to re-route around obstacles, such as dementia symptoms, thus coping with challenges better than brains that do not have cognitive reserve — much like a seasoned driver instinctively finding an alternate route home when he or she comes upon an unexpected roadblock.
Why Board Games Are an Ideal Senior Leisure Activity
Playing board games is one of the most stimulating leisure activities for seniors, even at an advanced age, because there are specific advantages compared with other games or activities. Beyond boosting cognitive function, board games:
- Promote new experiences, since no two games are the same
- Require initiative, planning, and adaptation to winning or losing
- Create pleasure and enjoyment
- Reduce stress and build immunity
- Can be played with family members, friends, acquaintances, caregivers, and grandchildren
- Promote social interaction between generations
- Are an inexpensive leisure activity
- Can be played by seniors with a physical disability, mild hearing or visual impairment
- Can be played in any season, regardless of the weather.
Here’s how both classic and modern board games boost senior brain health:
- Scrabble. No game stimulates the areas of the brain responsible for word recall and critical thinking like Scrabble. In fact, a University of Calgary study found that regular Scrabble players began using parts of the brain associated with working memory and visual processing. This is not how non-Scrabble-playing brains typically access their language networks, according to researchers. So in this sense, Scrabble is building cognitive reserve.
- Monopoly. Did your senior loved have a career in finance, or make smart business investments? This timeless board game rekindles these abilities by exercising the cerebral cortex. Players use basic math skills to buy and build properties, which involves thought, memory, and perception. Just try not to fight over the game pieces…
- Clue. Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Though it may seem simple, Clue strengthens senior brains through the use of logic — and researchers at the University of California/Berkeley found that seniors who engaged in logic puzzles had fewer deposits of beta-amyloid in their brains, the destructive protein that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Chess.While chess isn’t what typically comes to mind when most people think of board games, it’s a powerful brain tonic. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, seniors over age 75 who played chess regularly were less likely to develop dementia. Because chess requires strategizing and pattern recognition, it promotes memory and raises IQ.
- Qwirkle.A tile placement game in which players match colors and shapes, Qwirkle uses pattern recognition and basic math to exercise the brain, making it an excellent choice for those with memory loss.
Board Games Help Prevent Isolation
One of the greatest benefits of board games is that they are social by design; you can’t play a board game alone! Social media may be a fun way for digitally savvy seniors to stay connected with friends and family, but it can’t hold a candle to the real thing.
Having a network of friends and loved ones is the best way to remain healthy and happy. The U.S. surgeon general has determined that social isolation is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Isolation leads to depression and anxiety, which have a negative effect on memory.
Staying socially active also correlates with better physical health. A Drexel University School of Public Health study found that seniors who were more socially connected had significantly better mobility than those who lived in less social communities. Socially connected seniors were also more likely to engage in health-enhancing behaviors, such as not smoking and getting recommended health screenings.
In England, an innovative police department has set up “chat benches” to encourage people to break through invisible social barriers and start talking. The idea is simple: a sign on certain park benches reads, “Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping by to say hello.” It’s a natural icebreaker that may make a huge difference for lonely UK seniors.
Perhaps we could take the concept a step further, and add a board game to the benches with a note: “Make friends and improve your brain health.”
Getting On Board with Memory Care at Kensington Place
At Kensington Place, our Life Enrichment program is a cornerstone of superior memory care. The ever-changing calendar of events offers activities seven days a week, from morning till evening, allowing residents to stay as involved as they wish to be.
Activities and friendships have been shown to reduce stress, preserve wellness, keep the mind sharp, and increase feelings of self-worth, especially for seniors. We’re always searching for new ways to stimulate the mind, strengthen the body, and nourish the spirit.
Come visit us soon, and discover what true aging in place in San Mateo County is all about.