Plenty has been written about the benefits of using memory games for adults to help prevent or slow the progress of cognitive decline. Just as physical exercises can help keep our body strong and healthy as we age, mental exercises help preserve our cognitive skills and memory.
Giving our brain a good workout on a regular basis helps it grow nerve tissue. In addition, certain mental exercises, such as solving puzzles, increase the production of dopamine, which the brain needs for memory and concentration.
If you’ve looked into different types of memory games for older adults, then you already know there’s a broad range of possibilities. Ultimately, the ones that are “best” for your family member are those that he or she will look forward to playing frequently.
It’s never too soon to start playing brain games and games designed specifically to exercise the memory. But with so many to choose from, where do you start?
Much depends on whether there is already some level of cognitive decline. For those whose memory is relatively intact or who have only slight memory loss, most “brain games” are a viable option. Those with more advanced cognitive impairment or dementia, on the other hand, may find some games too complex or overly stimulating.
Something else to consider before choosing a memory game is whether your family member is comfortable using a computer or tablet. Many board games, puzzles, and card games have digital versions that add motion, lights, color, and sound to make playing them more fun. You can even connect the digital device to a TV for a larger screen, and to make it easier for more people to play.
Still, some people prefer playing games the “traditional” way — with a deck of cards, a board game with pieces you move by hand, a jigsaw puzzle you lay out on the table, or word and number puzzles printed on paper.
The benefits are similar either way. If your loved one is hesitant to try playing online games or puzzles, then stay with what’s familiar.
As an aside, we’ve found that it can take a couple of weeks for some older adults to get used to playing games on a computer or tablet. Once they get the hang of it, though, a lot of them really enjoy it!
Group Activities for Seniors and One-on-One Time, Too
At Park Senior Villas, we play a variety of games in groups within each villa, and we also have daily one-on-one sessions with each resident. Both settings offer brain health benefits.
When we play games as a group, there’s a social dynamic that often encourages residents who tend to be more withdrawn to come join in the fun. The shared laughter and camaraderie create a relaxed environment where residents can feel comfortable being spontaneous.
One-on-one time gives us the opportunity to learn more about each resident. We find out more about what they like to (and can) do, as well as what interests and motivates them. It’s also a chance to informally assess whether they’re maintaining the same level of cognition.
Residents’ Choice: Popular Memory Games in Our Communities
Memory games run the gamut from familiar childhood board games to online brain games that offer lots of variety, and the option to track a player’s progress over time. These are some of the favorites among residents at Park Senior Villas:
- Kings Corner (similar to Solitaire, except it’s for multiple players)
- Snakes and Ladders/Chutes and Ladders
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Word search and word scramble puzzles
- Connect the dots
- Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and Deal or No Deal (on the Wii)
Observations from One of Our Activities Directors
Melissa Chavez, the activities director at our La Cañada community, said it’s important to match the game (or activity) to the player’s mental abilities. That way, they don’t get discouraged because the game is too challenging or bored because it’s too easy.
Since residents in memory care are at different stages, she makes sure there are varying degrees of difficulty when they play games as a group. It allows everyone who wants to, to participate.
She noted that in many cases, residents who are in the earlier stages of memory loss will volunteer to help her when they play group games — like when they use the white board and markers to play Hangman. They enjoy participating as an assistant, she said, because it gives them a sense of purpose.
Some games can also provide a sense of accomplishment, Melissa added. For example, certain online games, like Lumosity, let you set goals.
“The residents get really excited once they achieve the goal,” she said, “or if they finish a game ahead of the time limit. They’ll say, ‘Hey, I did it!’”
“We make it a priority to keep their memory and their brain active — exercising their mind,” Melissa said. She added that activities like these can be very useful, too, when it comes to helping new residents feel more comfortable in their surroundings.
She also pointed out that when doing a puzzle like Sudoku or a complete the sentence word game, it doesn’t matter if the numbers are in the right place or the answer is correct. What counts is the effort, because the brain is working.
Music and Reminiscence Therapy
Some of the memory “games” we play at Park Senior Village are hybrid activities more than games in the usual sense of the word.
For instance, karaoke is very popular among the residents in our communities, including those who are with us for assisted living. Although the lyrics are available for reference, many of the songs are so familiar to residents that they can sing them without looking at the words. This helps to stimulate and reinforce their memory. Plus, when the whole group sings, it’s a great deal of fun!
Throughout the year, our activities directors find creative ways to use music in their memory care activities. Melissa, for example, played various versions of name that love song with residents in February.
Music is also a favorite category when playing trivia or games like finish the song title or finish the lyrics.
History and culture from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, including movies and TV shows, are other favorite trivia categories. They’re also great topics for conversations, whether in a group setting or one-on-one. Not only do these conversations jog the memory, they also promote social interaction among the residents and staff — something we’re big on here at Park Senior Villas.
Want to Know More About Our Memory Care Program?
No two people experience memory loss or dementia the same way. That’s why we believe it’s crucial to take a person-centered approach to memory care.
We focus on really getting to know each resident in our memory care program — including the details about their life, their history, and their abilities. With this in-depth knowledge, we can create a personalized environment for them that both soothes and stimulates.
If you’d like to explore one of our communities as a possibility for someone you care about, we invite you to schedule a tour.