Today, I want to talk about the importance of brain games for seniors. But, first, a little context. The last time I had to fill in a medical form, it asked me “How many hours a week do you exercise?” I had to laugh. Hours? Surely you jest!
My weekly exercise routine can be more accurately measured in “minutes.” And, what exactly counts as “exercise” anyway? Lifting a mug of tea to my lips? Turning the pages of a magazine? Typing?
After deciding to include my morning walk, I proudly answered two-and-a-half hours of “exercise” per week. But it was only after my video interview with Dr. Medina that I realized that I wasn’t even thinking about how much I was exercising the most important part of my body – my brain.
Keeping Your Aging Brain Healthy
Humans are social creatures and when we feel lonely, our brains suffer in more ways than one. First, the stress that comes with social isolation impacts our brains directly. Second, a lack of social activity prevents us from taking positive steps towards living a full and active life.
But with 75% of the women surveyed in our community stating that they felt lonely and 81% stating that they sometimes feel like they have no-one to talk to, are there other ways we can also help keep our brain healthy?
One of the most popular trends in brain health over the last decade has been the explosive growth of the brain games industry. The genre was popularized by titles such as Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training, and has reached the mainstream through sites like Lumosity.com and BrainHQ. Some studies have even suggested that playing free brain games like Sudoku might help people reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia as they get older.
Brain Games and Depression
With Mental Health America estimating that more than two million of us will suffer from depression at some point in our life, finding ways to keep our brains healthy is more important than ever. A good amount of research has recently looked into whether there are any benefits of playing games on boomers’ mental health. The results, ‘A lot!’
Researchers from the University of Georgia reported that residents in China who played Mahjong (a tile-based strategy game) were less likely to report feeling depressed.
Whether this is down to the game itself or the social aspect is unclear, but it’s a good indicator that playing games, particularly those that require multiple players such as Chess, Cards, Checkers and Backgammon, can only be beneficial for our aging brain.
Certain computer games have even been found to be just as effective as the antidepressant Lexapro, with positive results showing in four weeks rather than the twelve weeks it usually takes the medication to work. You might therefore just want to grab a console the next time your grandkids are playing!
Looking to give your brain a boost? Try our very own FREE Sixty and Me brain games!
What Are the Best Brain Games for Seniors?
Fortunately, keeping our brains healthy does not have to be boring, repetitive or time-consuming. In fact, one of the best ways to keep our minds in great shape at any age is with brain games like Sudoku, Mahjong and Chess. Here are thirty-five brain games that will keep you entertained whilst giving your brain a great workout!
Sudoku – Boost Your Pattern Recognition and Decision Making
Sudoku is a game of logic where you have to spot patterns, think strategically and solve problems. The benefits of playing Sudoku also include getting a sense of accomplishment from unravelling a problem, creating order and finishing tasks. If you enjoy bringing order to a situation of uncertainty and experiencing the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing tasks, Sudoku is for you! Play online, or play on paper – a range of Sudoku puzzle books are available on Amazon.
Mahjong – A great brain game for older adults who love puzzles
A straightforward tile-matching game that has long been popular with the elderly in Asian countries, Mahjong is also a great way to socialize as you can play the table game version with multiple players. It is a fun game for people of all ages, but it’s especially popular with older adults who are looking for unique and challenging ways to keep their minds sharp, have fun, and be connected to a global culture. Beautifully crafted Mahjong sets start from under $25.
Chess – Boost your brain with one of the oldest brain games
First played in the 7th century by kings in India, Chess is now a global phenomenon, played on giant outdoor chess boards and at competitive events where computers challenge the brains of brilliant chess masters! It encourages concentration and focus around “if then” thinking, which is useful when making decisions. Choose from a wide range of sets here.
Jigsaw Puzzles – Find peace and calm with this visual meditation
Jigsaw puzzles are introduced to us as babies and the act of matching pictures to shapes is the first brain game most of us play. Working on puzzles can also help to lower our rate of breathing and reduce our heart rate and blood pressure. With thousands of different designs and sizes to choose from, you can pick one up for under $15.
Crossword Puzzles – Build a better vocabulary, while having fun
For those people who are not fond of math brain games, crossword puzzles are a great alternative. Crosswords are challenging but in our super stressed world, they are also a great way to relax. You can start a puzzle on Sunday and pick it up throughout the week, since there is no pressure to finish in one sitting. A long-term study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that seniors who did crosswords four day a week had a 47 percent lower risk of dementia than those who only did them once a week. Play online with SixtyandMe or pick up a puzzle book on Amazon for under $10
Qwirkle – Simple to learn, yet strategic and exciting to play
Mix and match tiles with different shapes and colors, scoring points by completing or adding to lines of the same shapes or colors. Qwirkle can be enjoyed by all ages making it great fun to play with your friends or your grandkids! Become part of the community of more than four million people who have already purchased this game!
Ticket to Ride – Careful balance of greed and fear
Dreaming of long train rides or visiting cities across North America? Look no further! TIcket to Ride is a board game that requires tactical thinking whilst being forced to balance greed – adding more cards to your hand, and fear – losing a critical route to a competitor. Easy to learn and guaranteed to keep your brain engaged, purchase the original box set here.
Word Search – Relaxing way to keep your brain ticking over
If you don’t fancy a numbers game and you’ve hit a brick wall with Crossword clues, a word search could be the perfect game for your brain. Search for the words listed in a scramble of letters – a great activity to relax with whilst challenging your brain to find all the hidden words. There are plenty of word search books available for under $10.
Lumosity.com – Online platform to truly train your brain
Lumosity is dedicated to not merely playing “games,” but to improving your brain performance, enhancing memory and attention, and living a better life. Lumosity lets you build a personalized brain training program based on which mental skills you want to get better at, whether it’s remembering names after the first introduction, learning new subjects quickly, or solving problems.
Yahtzee – The Classic Dice Game
The dice game for high rollers, this classic game is still as popular as ever. Although it may be down to luck as to what numbers you roll, you will be using quick thinking, numerical and tactical skills to decide your strategy and help you come out on top. Pick up some dice or score cards from under $10..
Scrabble – Creating words and scoring big
Add to existing words or strategically form new words whilst trying to score the maximum number of points. If you enjoy taking a random set of letters and making words whilst ensuring you are getting the highest possible score, scrabble will keep you thoroughly entertained. Take your pick from beautifully crafted wooden sets to smaller travel sets on Amazon.
HAPPYneuron.com – Procrastinate productively!
HAPPYneuron is another brain game site that offers a variety of brain training exercises focused on a range of cognitive skills, including memory, attention, language, reasoning, and visual-spatial skills. These games are a great example of how to use mobile devices to “procrastinate productively” – instead of playing mindless games or scrolling through your friends’ Facebook updates, you can build a better brain, one game at a time.
Scattergories – Find the words your opponents can’t
Defeat your competitors by coming up with creative answers that all match a specific category, contain the same first letter, but won’t be thought of by your opponents. Do you go for the obvious options hoping they won’t, or challenge yourself to think out of the box. Starting from under $20, this is a game the whole family will love.
Gin Rummy – Two player game of strategy
All you need to play Gin Rummy is a standard 52-pack of cards, with the objective to score points and reach an agreed number – usually more than 100. It’s a simple game of strategy played around the world, encouraging concentration, focus and basic numerical skills. Standard playing cards can be purchased for under $5 a deck!
UNO – Get rid of those cards as quickly as you can!
The classic card game of matching colors and numbers, players take it in turns to get rid of all their cards by matching a card in their hand with the current card shown on top of the deck either by color or number. Special Action cards deliver game-changing moments but require strategy and tactics to decide exactly when to use them. Don’t forget to shout “UNO” when you only have one card remaining – available for under $10 on Amazon!
Bridge – Popular card game since the 1930s
Around since the 1930s, Bridge is now one of the most popular card games in the world. Players attempt to score points by defeating their opponents hands by making bids and winning tricks. Predicting movements with a good strategy will keep your brain working! Standard playing cards can be purchased for under $5 a deck!
Old Maid – Don’t become the Old Maid!
A favourite with children, making it the perfect card game to play with your Grandkids, the aim is to discard your cards as quickly as possible, laying down pairs of matching cards until just one person is left holding a card – the Old Maid! All you need is a standard deck of cards – available for under $5!
Snap – Quick reactions are the key to winning this game
You’ll need quick reactions to win this game, so concentration is key! Win every card in the deck by being the first to yell ‘Snap’ when a matching card is placed on the deck. Another card game that is great fun to play with all ages! If you don’t already own some, pick up a deck of cards here.
Bunco – The portable game you can really play anywhere
Sometimes, all you need to have fun are a few dice, a pencil and a pad of paper. Win Bunco by earning as many points as possible by rolling numbers that match each numbered round of play. There is nothing more satisfying than rolling the dice and watching them land exactly how you had hoped! A wide range of sets are available.
Where’s Waldo – Hiding in plain sight
With one of the most recognisable faces in the world, Waldo has been hiding in plain sight for over 25 years! Trying to find Waldo and his friends in a different scene on every page is a great way to exercise your brain, and sure to cause a little frustration as you scan the page for the hundredth time! With plenty to choose from, pick which adventure you want to start with here.
Solitaire – A great game to play alone
A tabletop game using just a standard pack of 52 cards, Solitaire is a great game to play alone to keep your brain sharp. It requires pattern recognition and strategy, sometimes you must make one step back, just to make two steps forward later. Play this game enough and you might find that the more you do that, the more comfortable your brain is with this decision-making concept in everyday life. If you don’t already own some, all you need is a standard deck of cards.
Catan – See what all the noise is about!
One of the most popular board games of the last decade, Catan requires you to track resources, strategize against the other players and plan exactly how you are going to win. Not only fun, it also provides plenty of opportunities to exercise your brain and if you get bored of the original, extension packs can be purchased to increase the difficulty! Join the fun by purchasing your own box set today
Clue – Hone your note taking and decision making skills
The classic detective game, Clue requires you to use all the skills you have to identify who murdered the victim, where it took place, and the weapon they used. At its heart, it is a simple puzzle game, but it requires concentration, decision making and note taking skills, using the clues you gather and your opponents give to solve the mystery. Sets start at under $20.
Monopoly – A classic game with new modern twists
A board game classic enjoyed by all the family, tracking your money, counting your dollars and deciding exactly what to buy and when is all part of the game. Have fun with your friends or family whilst exercising your brain and trying to avoid getting sent to jail. Buy the original or find one of the many new themed sets that are available.
Telestrations – Draw, laugh and try to guess the answer
A great game to get your creative streak flowing, Telestrations requires you to sketch out concepts and scenarios to be guessed by your opponents. Once you are done, it’s your turn to guess there’s! Guaranteed to make you laugh, it’s a brilliant way to have fun with friends and practise those stick man drawing skills! Grab your set here.
Connect4 – A great pattern spotting game
A simple and quick game, Connect4 involves dropping coloured pieces in a grid, aiming to be the first to, you guessed it, connect four! You need to look for patterns, plan ahead, and make decisions about where to put your pieces, so not only do you build up possible connections, but block your opponent from doing so. Sets start from under $15.
Backgammon – Enjoyed by all ages for centuries
One of the oldest known board games, Backgammon can be traced back over 5000 years to archeological discoveries in Mesopotamia. While not the most strenuous game, Backgammon relies on arithmetic and strategy to beat your opponent (and maybe some luck) with the aim to move your fifteen pieces between twenty-four triangles according to the roll of two dice. A wide range of set choices can be purchased on Amazon.
Checkers – A great workout for your brain
What links strategic thinking, concentration, focus, problem solving and analytical skills? They are all needed for a game of Checkers! A two-player game that is simple to learn and simple to play, it is a great workout for your brain. Beautifully crafted wooden sets, to smaller travel sets are available from $15.
Duolingo – Challenge your brain and learn a new skill
We are breaking the rules slightly with this one, as it technically isn’t classed as a game, but is there any better workout for your brain than learning a new language? Using the Duolingo app you can learn almost any language you want and advance at your own pace whilst taking part in interactive games and lessons.
4 Pics 1 Word – Fun mobile app to keep your mind sharp
If you want a good brain game to play on your phone or tablet, 4 pics 1 word could be just it. Each round you are shown four pictures that all have something in common and you just have to guess the word that links them all together. Sounds easy, but trust us when we say some rounds can be harder than it sounds! It is available on both Google Play and the App Store.
Jenga – the Classes party game enjoyed by all ages
The classic party game enjoyed by all ages, Jenga requires you to remove rectangular blocks from a stack and place them on top. The game ends when someone removes a block that causes the stack to fall. A great social game that also requires problem solving and decision making when it comes to choosing which piece to remove. Standard sets are available from under $15.
The Tray Game – Test your memory with this very simple game
This game can be played absolutely anywhere – all you need is a tray and between 10-20 random items placed on it. Put it on the table and spend 5-10 minutes trying to memorise all the items. Take it away, and try to recall them by writing down what was on the tray! The great thing about this game is it can be played anywhere, with any number of people, and is great for working on memory recall and keeping your mind sharp.
Taboo – The game of unspeakable fun
A great brain game for those who like linguistics, Taboo will keep your mind sharp as you describe the given object or scenario whilst avoiding the list of forbidden words – usually the ones you really want to use! This game requires quick thinking against the clock to identify words you can use so your opponents can guess the answer. Available online for under $20.
Brain Yoga – Pat your head and rub your tummy
Harder than it sounds, Brain Yoga is a simple task that you carry out with the aim of improving your hand-eye coordination, motor abilities and neural pathways. Activities can be relatively simple such as raising a different finger on each hand, to complex such as patting your head whilst rubbing your tummy. A great brain game to improve muscle memory and mental abilities. See what you can come up with and challenge your friends!
Keep Your Brain Alive – A unique brain exercise program
“Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness” is a book written by Manning Rubin and Dr. Lawrence C. Katz, professor of neurobiology at Duke University. A unique brain exercise program, it’s based on the latest neuroscience with the deceptively simple exercises stimulating brain nutrients to help new brain cells grow. Available on Amazon as paperback, audiobook or E-book.
Do you enjoy playing any of these free brain games for seniors? Which one is your favourite? Please join the conversation.