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Puzzles, Games, and Mental Health for Seniors

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puzzles-games-mental-health-seniors

Board games, cards, puzzles, computer games, and word games are all enjoyable ways to pass free time and socialize with others. But they might also be more than that.

While researchers are still working to define the exact links between slowing cognitive degeneration and mental exercise games, observational evidence suggests a strong positive correlation.

Given the manifest benefits, It’s not surprising that word games, computer games, and puzzle games for mental health abound. Not only are these games a great way to socialize, but they also seem to keep us mentally sharp as we age.

Recent years have seen the development of an entire industry around puzzles, computer games, word games, and even board games geared specifically toward mental exercise and the prevention of age-related cognitive deterioration. Games for dementia prevention and games to fend off Alzheimer’s are now available on store shelves everywhere. Designed and created specifically to increase mental health and prevent memory loss, these games, if regularly played, can help with mental clarity. 

The theory is simple: certain games i.e. mental games, memory games, and puzzles exercise the mental muscles, which in turn keeps the brain active and sharp. Our mental capacities seem to work the same way our cardiovascular and muscular systems do. Exercise and stimulation lead to health and longevity.

Games slow cognitive degeneration because they ‘work out’ our brains. Some games work to improve memory, while others activate problem-solving capacities. One thing that available research does indicate is that games only help if they’re actually activating the capacity in question. You have to play a game that activates memory to improve memory or prevent memory loss.

Having said all that, here are a few options to help you get started with your mental workout.  The following are examples of activities that provide the right mental exercise to help you or your loved one maintain sharp and coherent mental capacities.

Word Games for Seniors

Word games are games that involve language and activate problem-solving capacities. Examples would be games like Scrabble, Crossword puzzles, or Wordle. These games could be board games like Scrabble, paper games like Crosswords, or digital games like Wordle and Wordscapes. 

Word games usually involve some puzzle that requires the player/s to fill in the blanks or to come up with new words that fit specific criteria. Word games activate the memory, forcing players to recall oftentimes obscure words to fit the required slot.

Word games are specifically linked to mental health because they use language. Language and the words that make it are closely linked to mental capacity and to social interaction. The ability to recall and formulate clear language is essential for mental health and longevity. Like anything, language requires practice. Word games make the practice and recollection of the language fun.

Word games are an excellent mental stimulant. Scrabble, for example, both exercises the brain and socially stimulates the players. This is notable since doctors also link frequent social interaction to long-term mental health.

Free Brain Games for Seniors

Mentally stimulating games need not entail an expensive purchase or a monthly subscription. Another option for mental exercise is found in brain games. And, there are multiple brain games available to all that provide solid mental exercise and don’t cost a thing. Just take a look in the weekly paper and you should find some Crosswords and Sudokus.

Free online games are easy to find as well. These games test memory and stimulate neuron connection. There are hundreds of games to choose from so players have options and pick the games they like best.

Board Games for Seniors

Classic board games like Chess, Scrabble, Backgammon, and Checkers are excellent means of mental stimulation. These games require strategy, planning and foresight, all essential elements of a healthy and active brain. scrabble

More modern games like Monopoly, Risk, and Battleship are other options that can contribute to mental strength. In these games, players bring their planning and strategizing capacities to bear on the problem at hand. Each player struggles to outwit his or her opponent/s and to win a decisive victory, either financial or military.

Board games utilize social interaction for mental health. It’s not so much a mental workout (although some board games can be mentally taxing) as it is a social experience. Being together with the other players, conversing, bartering, and solving problems leads to a healthier and sharper mind.

Printable Brain Games for Seniors

In the same vein as free board games, printable board games offer an easy option for those seeking mental stimulation at a low cost. The internet offers literally millions of options for free printable puzzle games. 

Sudoku for example is widely available for print-off online. A quick Google search will provide thousands of free puzzles that can be printed immediately. Crosswords have the same availability. Just type in “free Crossword puzzles” and hit image search, and viola! As many puzzles as you could wish, ready for printout. If you’d like to challenge yourself some more, then give some of these classic physical puzzles a try! 

Printable puzzle games are a good option for downtime. Just print some off, grab a pencil and you’re off to the races!

Match Games for Seniors

The option is Match games. Match games target memory specifically. A match game generally shows a pattern, color or card and then requires the player to remember that specific and recall it at a further time.

One of the most popular Match games is the card game Memory. As the name suggests the game is all about memory. Players lay out a 52-card deck in a square grid pattern, face down on a table then take turns flipping two cards of their choice. If the cards a player flips match then the player removes those cards from the table and keeps that match as his or her own. If the cards do not match then the player returns them to their original position face down on the table. The players continue to flip cards, two on each turn until the whole table is cleared and all cards have been matched. The player who has captured the most matches wins.

All Match games bear some resemblance to this format. Players have the opportunity to view images or cards that are then hidden. Players must then use their memory to recall the previously revealed pattern or image position and solve a puzzle.

Match games are excellent games for memory training.

Video Games for Seniors

The final category featured here is Video Games. Video Games combine digital technology with puzzle-solving and mental exertion. While the image conjured up by the term ‘video game’ will, for many, be that of a youngster sitting and staring at a brightly lit screen, some games are social and interactive, some games are actually built to help players develop social and mental capabilities.

The Nintendo Wii, for example, is designed to integrate physical activity and teamplay with a virtual video experience. With a Wii system players actually swing their arms, move their legs and flick their wrists to interact with a virtual environment through the game’s interface. Guitar Hero calls on players to respond to digital on-screen prompts by playing the right notes on a toy guitar or hitting a toy drum in time. Games like these create a fun way to practice hand-eye coordination and stay sharp.

Further to their credit, Video Games are the only games specifically designed for mind training. In fact, a search on your app store will quickly show you a game for just about any training activity you might be seeking. If you want to improve your memory, there are games for that. If you want to practice puzzles, there are games for that. If you want to practice reaction and fast cognition, there are games for that. Specialization may be the strongest feature of video games for mental exercise.

What’s more, video games are really fun. Their interactive nature keeps players engaged, which leads to more regular gameplay and more likelihood that you will actually play the game enough to take some of the reported benefits.

Video games, more than other game types, require the active participation of the player. Video games mean that the player takes input from the game’s video environment and makes fast decisions to reach some goal. The player is actively engaged in making fast decisions, taking in inputs, processing information, and quickly responding. For mental sharpness, engagement is key.

To sum up, if you’re looking to use games as a method of mental exercise video games are one place to look where you’ll likely find something to match your exercise goals. 

Bottom Line

Mental deterioration is one sad aspect of aging, but it doesn’t have to be an inevitability. There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s but there are preventive measures. It’s important to know what is part of the natural aging process and what is illness.

Studies show that mental exercise can actually slow and even reverse mental slowness. Memory and reasoning skills along with the speed of information processing are skills. For the young as well as for the old these skills can be trained. The difference is that seniors have more reason to exercise and train since the natural process of aging leads to an increased risk of mental deterioration.

One way to train the brain is through the use of games. Games can help train memory, they can help with reasoning processes, and can exercise our information-processing capabilities. Games can lead to better cognitive function because they are mental exercises. Playing games regularly can slow mental deterioration and fend off Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The important thing is  to pick the right game for the job.

So there it is. Games are a great way to spend time with others and enjoy their company. They’re also a great way to stay sharp and active as you age. Whether you enjoy word games like Scrabble or Wordle, or you’re a chess club member, or you just print out some Crosswords to pass some time each day, you’re on the right track!

 

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