DementiaTrusted Source causes a progressive loss of a person’s cognitive abilities, which are crucial for everyday functioning.
When someone has dementia, they may have trouble with memory, thinking, reasoning, or even language. Losing these skills can make it difficult for people with dementia to perform their day-to-day activities.
While there’s no cure for dementia, some treatment options can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. For example, people often discuss the idea of using memory games for dementia that can help stimulate the brain. But what does the research actually say about the role of brain stimulating games for dementia?
In this article, we explore how brain games might help with cognitive functions, and the best games to play.
How can brain games help people with dementia?
Games are among the many activities that can keep the human mind entertained and engaged. But more importantly, games can help keep our brains stimulated. This is extremely important for older adults, especially those at risk of dementia.
For example, a 2019 studyTrusted Source that included older adults explored the impact of 16 weeks of combined physical and cognitive “exergame” training. The researchers found that there was significant improvement of working memory and executive function.
A 2019 studyTrusted Source researched the effect of computerized cognitive training (in areas such as reasoning, memory, language, and attention) on the progression of mild cognitive impairment. Results of the study showed that the training increased the brain’s gray matter volume and may help preserve general cognition.
So, what do these studies have to do with brain games for dementia?
When someone has dementia, many of their cognitive skills are declining. These include some of the skills mentioned in these studies, such as memory and reasoning. And newer research has suggested that gaming may help improve these cognitive skills, especially in people with dementia.
Recently, one review from 2020Trusted Source explored research on the role of serious games for dementia care. During the review, the researchers explored three types of games and their benefits:
- Board games: These can help with cognitive functions such as memory, communication, and emotional regulation.
- Video games: Video games can be customized to directly target different cognitive abilities, such as memory and reasoning.
- Virtual reality games: These can provide both cognitive and physical reinforcement, depending on the type of game.
According to the review, when early stage and middle stage patients with dementia used serious games, they were able to improve a wide variety of cognitive abilities, including:
- short-term memory
- reaction time
- problem solving
- logical reasoning
Still, despite a fair amount of supportive evidence for the role of games in dementia care, the literature is still relatively mixed. For example, a more recent analysisTrusted Source on the research surrounding brain games and cognitive impairment found that brain games weren’t more effective for improving cognitive function than control interventions.
Ultimately, while there’s some promise for the role of brain stimulating games for dementia, more research is needed.
What are the best games to play for dementia?
We’ve known for decades now that games can be a great way to stimulate the brain. However, not all games are created equal when it comes to which skills they can train. So, here are some of the games that may support a wide variety of cognitive skills, especially for people with dementia.
Word puzzles are a genre of games that focus specifically on language. Some games like Scrabble focus on letter and word arrangement, while other games like crosswords focus on word recall. However, there are a wide variety of forms that word puzzles can take, such as the recently released Wordle.
Research from 2015Trusted Source suggests that playing games like crosswords puzzles, among other types of puzzles, may potentially lead to cognitive improvements in verbal learning, memory, speed, and more.
With this in mind, consider giving some of these classic word puzzles a try:
- word searches
- branded games such as Scrabble and Mad Libs
- Jigsaw puzzles
Jigsaw puzzles are a type of puzzle game that are particularly beneficial for memory and reasoning. Jigsaw puzzles can range from simple puzzles that are easy to piece together to more complex puzzles that require a lot more hand-eye coordination and memory recall.
Because people with dementia often struggle with cognitive skills such as memory recall and reasoning, jigsaw puzzles may be an easy way to support these skills. And the best part about these puzzles is that there’s a little something for everyone, from simple cardboard jigsaws to three-dimensional jigsaw sculptures and much more.
There’s a central component of luck in a lot of dice games. Most rely on a random throw of the dice. This makes games like Yahtzee and Bar Dice extra fun and competitive.
Older research from 2012Trusted Source suggests that people with certain types of cognitive conditions, such as dementia, may experience a decrease in numerical and calculation skills. These skills can be practiced with dice games.
Here are some brain-simulating dice games that you can add to your repertoire:
- Liar’s dice
- Shut the Box
- Card games
Card games rely on different types of playing cards to play. Card games can either use a standard deck of cards, like Rummy, or cards that are specific to the game, like Uno.
Card games are great for practicing skills such as reasoning, problem solving, memory, and concentration: the same skills which are often in decline in individuals with dementia.
With a wide variety of card games on the market, it can be hard to figure out where to start, so here are a few to get you started:
- matching games, such as Go Fish
- trick-taking games, such as Bridge
- specific games, such as Uno
- Solitaire variations
- collectible games, such as the Pokémon Trading Card Game
- Board games
Board games are a genre of games that use a premade board, along with pieces, which are moved or placed on the board. Most board games, especially newer ones, also use cards, dice, and other elements.
A 2019 studyTrusted Source that explored the benefits of playing analog games, such as board games, among 1,091 participants found that a higher frequency of playing games resulted in less cognitive decline from age 70 to age 79.
Considering the impact that board games may have on cognitive health, here are a few suggestions to add to your collection:
- Trivial Pursuit
- Ticket to Ride
Video games encompass a wide variety of electronic games, from traditional desktop computer games to games on newer systems like the Wii and Switch. And let’s not forget cell phone and tablet games, which are rising in popularity among older adults especially.
Recent researchTrusted Source supports the theory that specifically designed brain training games may enhance cognitive functioning in older adults, especially in areas such as visual recognition, visual memory, and attention.
If you’ve never played video games before but are considering giving them a try, here are some good options to start with:
- TETRIS on any platform
- Candy Crush Saga, online or on mobile
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch
- Wii Sports on the Nintendo Wii (it’s great for exercise too)
- any mobile or app version of the classics, like word games, puzzles, card or dice games, and board games