Close up of man playing chess

Everyone enjoys a good brain game every once in a while, and certainly, Seniors are no different. In the same way that walking, stretching, and sports help people improve their physical health, brain games and puzzles can help people improve their mental acuity and memory, which is important as we age.

In this blog, we’ve discussed various ways for Seniors to stay physically active, but the brain needs exercises, too! Brain games are an effective part of Dementia care, and making them part of a care plan is a great way to boost a loved one’s cognitive skills while also building better relationships with Caregivers. Brain games for seniors aren’t just for people living with Dementia; they can also be a great way for anyone to keep their memory and cognitive skills sharp as they age. In this post, we’ll talk about the benefits of brain games for both healthy Seniors and those living with Dementia before diving into a list of easily findable games. For the list, we have a mix of old classics and new online games.

The Benefits of Cognition Games

For some, there is a preconceived notion that cognitive mind games are only for older adults with Dementia. In fact, these puzzles, games and quizzes – known collectively in scientific circles as “cognitive training” – are just as beneficial to everyone.

Cognitive games for Seniors can help people with Dementia (as well as reduce the risk of Dementia). Brain games help with memory, language, spatial awareness and strategy, all things that often come in handy in daily life at home. Together with home health care in Toronto – including our private in-home Dementia care and Palliative care in Toronto and Mississauga – the benefits of brain games for Seniors will likely also include making them feel more relaxed and comfortable in their own homes.

It’s important to note before we proceed that not all researchers are confident about the miracle effects of brain games on healthy people. And some important research casts doubt on claims made by leading brain game makers. But, even if these games can’t promise total security against the cognitive decline of aging, at least they are fun diversions that activate the brain for a brief period. Let’s look at a few of the best and most fun brain games out there.

Cognition Games for Seniors

Chess

This is the quintessential brain game, a tête-à-tête of strategy and foresight that requires close attention and keen spatial visualization. Getting good at chess takes some practice, but there are online courses available, as well as Senior centres, chess clubs and even classes through the library you can learn from, all here in the GTA. Of course, if you are looking for something a little less complex, checkers is always a fantastic alternative!

Lumosity

This is the original online “Brain Game” company, the one about which all those aforementioned studies have been squabbling. Whether or not it greatly improves mental acuity in the long term may be up for debate, but there’s no denying that these brain puzzles keep you sharp while you’re playing them. And sometimes that may be enough. Luminosity’s memory, attention, flexibility, speed and problem-solving games all provide an entertaining challenge for Seniors to undertake alone or with a family member or caregiver.

Jigsaw Puzzles

We all remember evenings spent around the kitchen table, sorting through barely distinguishable pieces of knobbly jigsaw puzzle. It’s as much a nostalgic act as anything else, but working on a jigsaw puzzle can also exercise spatial skills, focus and memory. Jigsaw Puzzles come in varying skill levels and are great for all levels of mental acuity. Further than that, finishing a jigsaw puzzle carries with it its own sense of accomplishment – seeing the whole scene come together piece by piece is both fun and rewarding.

Jigsaw Puzzles are fantastic brain games for any Senior to play with an in-home caregiver, as they are quiet and open enough to allow for some great conversation. Visit our homepage to learn more about the various services we offer at Integracare.

Call to Mind

Call to Mind is a game specifically created and designed for people with Dementia. The game, nicknamed by the company as “The Communication Game,” involves spinning a wheel and then following one of a number of creative or communicative prompts. This might involve asking the person with Dementia some questions about themselves, which can be helpful for caregivers or friends who wish to learn more about the person. Call to Mind is meant to stimulate memory and facilitate communication.

Mahjong

This Chinese tile game has made quite a splash internationally, requiring quick thinking, skill and strategy. It takes a few tries to pick the game up, but once you do, it’s easy to see how people spend entire days playing it. A cross-sectional study recently linked playing Mahjong with greater hand-eye coordination in older adults

Close up of seniors playing mahjong

Duolingo

Although not marketed as a game, you could view Duolingo as such – the free language learning website puts users through a series of tasks and tests, each brightly coloured with fun infographics, in order to learn a new language. Learning a new language takes time and dedication, but it can pay off in wonderful ways. Not only does it open you up to countless new interactions with people, but also, as the AARP puts it, “learning a new language is like sending your brain to the gym.”

Sudoku

Sudoku is a beloved puzzle in Sunday morning newspapers everywhere. Sudoku only really became popular in the last decade or so. The numbered logic puzzle requires players to fill a 9×9 grid with the numbers 1 through 9, ensuring that no number appears twice in a row, column or subsection. As far as head-scratchers go, these can run the gamut between easy and near impossible. They make a great solo game for those hours spent on one’s own, or they can be happily solved with friends, family or caregivers.

Sporcle

This isn’t so much a single game, as it is a vast resource for different trivia quizzes online. At Sporcle.com, you will find countless quizzes, in categories like “Geography,” “Music,” “Movies,” “Sports,” and “History.” All the quizzes are user-generated, and you can vote on which quizzes you like the best. Speaking from experience, this is a wonderful website to spend a few hours flexing your brain muscles!

Bananagrams

Break this one out when the grandkids are over, or simply as a fun game to play with your caregiver. Bananagrams is a variant on Scrabble – it comes with a banana-shaped pouch containing lettered tiles, which you dump out to make conjoining words. But rather than taking turns, as you would in Scrabble, all players play simultaneously with a handful of tiles, and whoever uses all their letters first is crowned the winner.

Crossword Puzzles

Crosswords are entertaining, and can help stimulate memory, focus and problem-solving. “Your Life Choices,” a popular retirement website, posts a number of daily crosswords for Seniors. They’re a great source of free memory games for Seniors who love to test their knowledge and vocabulary. And if you’re stuck, each crossword allows you to ask for hints. Want to go one step further, though? You can learn how to make your own crossword puzzles, which you can give to your friends and family members, through a New York Times online tutorial – just Google “New York Times learn how to make a crossword puzzle.”

There are plenty more games you can find to play on your own or with a Senior with Dementia. You can find more online brain games for Seniors on AARP Games or some of the many other free sources on the web.

Cognitive Games for Seniors with Dementia

There is an important difference between the games Seniors might play to stay sharp and prevent cognitive decline and the cognition games that Seniors with Dementia play. Dementia can slow down thinking, impact problem-solving skills, and lead to memory loss – including things like words or the rules and strategies for more complex games.

The right cognitive games for Seniors with Dementia depend on personal preference, what games are already familiar to them, and how far their Dementia has progressed. At earlier stages, more complicated, familiar, and favourite games are the best bet. As their condition advances, consider simpler games. You can also do things like get special playing cards that are larger and easier to handle.

How Cognitive Games Can Help as Dementia Progresses

Cognition changes as Dementia progresses, and it’s important that Family and Caregivers adapt and evolve the care and interactions they provide. As much as cognitive mind games can help keep your mind sharp and provide some much-needed diversions for Seniors with Dementia who are receiving care, it’s also important to recognize that as Dementia progresses, cognitive processing can become more difficult for your loved one.

This can be particularly frustrating when a game becomes too challenging for a person with Dementia to keep playing. You may notice that they’re forgetting words, struggling to connect the dots at crossword clues, forgetting chess strategies or how game pieces move, or even forgetting how a game works. Complex strategy games can become very frustrating. Likewise, it may be better to avoid word-based games in the later stages of Dementia.

Pivoting to simpler games can help keep a person with Dementia engaged and working their brain without leading to frustration or disappointment. Whereas more complicated games like chess or Sudoku may need to be left behind, you can focus more on jigsaw puzzles, memory and matching games, user-friendly video games like Wii sports, and even activities like music therapy that engage the brain and prevent memory loss.

Like with physical activity, there are numerous ways to stay mentally active as well! Whether you or the Senior in your life play games for mental stimulation or just as a fun activity to pass the time, you can’t go wrong with one of these 10 wonderful games. Good luck!