Brain Games for Dementia Patients: Keeping a Sharp Mind

Man completes a puzzle

No matter your age, mental stimulation from playing games is a great way to keep your mind sharp. For those living with dementia, games provide an outlet to expand creativity, enhance mental acuteness and in some cases, preserve memory-based skills. While more research is necessary, there is some evidence that shows staying mentally active reduces the likelihood of cognitive decline. For those living with dementia, this may slow the pace of memory loss.

Besides the health benefits, playing games is a great way to bond with friends and loved ones. Competition brings out a person’s personality in a unique way, and there’s nothing quite like seeing the pride in someone’s eyes who has crushed the competition in a game they enjoy. If your loved one has struggled with tasks that make daily life more difficult, a game can provide a sense of comfort, as the rules may be familiar and provide them with a sense of control.

Wondering how to keep your memory sharp? Here are some of the top memory exercises for seniors to enhance their cognitive skills:

Puzzles

While some games are tense and highly competitive, a puzzle provides a more contemplative type of mental stimulation. Puzzles can be a stimulating and engaging activity for those with dementia.

When choosing a puzzle, it’s important to consider the capabilities of the senior, especially one who faces physical or cognitive challenges. Some puzzles may be too complex while others might not present enough of a challenge to be engaging. The best approach a caregiver can take is to find puzzles that are designed for specific skill levels.

MindStart sells popular puzzles for seniors with dementia. The company categorizes its products around “Activity Levels”. High Activity Level games are ideal for seniors who might miss a few details about the game’s rules, but still understand the overall objective, while Middle and Low Activity Level games provide less of a challenge. MindStart categorizes its puzzles based on a senior’s abilities, reducing the chances of frustration during gameplay.

Most puzzles have no time limits, so they are the perfect activity for anyone who wants to take on a mental challenge at their own pace. At Cherrywood Pointe, residents enjoy puzzles in front of fireplaces, in our cafes or on their decks. For our residents with dementia, these mental exercises are done as a small group, where care staff and other residents can work together, and offer reminders and encouragement along the way.

Board Games (Some specifically made for memory loss)

Board games present a challenge for anyone with dementia or any type of memory difficulties, especially if they have trouble memorizing a new set of rules. On the other hand, board games provide an opportunity for entertainment, mental stimulation and conversation. It’s important to be strategic when choosing a board game for someone facing memory difficulties.

Some of the most important factors to consider include:

  • Game piece size and color: large and bright game pieces are usually best
  • Sensory stimulation: it’s important to keep participants engaged
  • Rule complexity: choose a simple game that’s easy to understand
  • Familiarity: participants are more likely to enjoy a game they already know

So what are some of the best board games for dementia patients? The options are nearly endless, but some games that have proven to aid in mental stimulation include Bingo, Snakes and Ladders, dominoes and Uno. Another great option is Call to Mind, a game developed by an occupational therapist specifically for people with dementia. This game is built around conversations, and playing it with a loved one provides insights into his or her likes and dislikes.

Apps

The popularity of mobile games has opened up new play opportunities for people of all ages, and seniors are no exception. Brain games, or the types of games that challenge a participant intellectually, are particularly popular in senior living communities. Games that strengthen the mind are just a few taps away, and there are a few notable options that provide excellent cognitive exercises for dementia patients.

Lumosity

Anyone who’s looking for a brain workout is sure to love this application. Lumosity features a wide range of cognitive games that test speed, attention, flexibility, problem-solving, language and math skills. The more someone uses the app, the more they can track their progress and accomplishments. Lumosity is a great option for seniors who feel comfortable using a smartphone or tablet, but it’s not ideal for seniors with dementia who have trouble staying focused on interactive digital content.

Duolingo

It’s never too late to learn a new language, and Duolingo is designed to reduce the barrier to entry. While Duolingo has a much different format than classroom language lessons, it’s an easily accessible solution that turns learning a language into a game-like experience. It might seem counterintuitive for someone with dementia to attempt to memorize an entire language of vocabulary, but simply attempting to learn something new helps to preserve mental sharpness.

Colorfy

Who doesn’t love coloring? Colorfy features over one thousand pictures for users to paint, including mandalas, florals, animals and other unique patterns. Users can choose their brush types to give their creations a more unique and personalized appearance. This app is a great option for dementia patients who would rather spend time exercising their creativity.

Card Games

The beauty of card games is their relative simplicity. While some of these games have a long list of rules, all of them only require just one standard deck to play. If you have a card deck nearby, you have access to a multitude of games to enjoy, and some of them are perfect for those living with a memory-related illnesses.

It’s important to consider the challenges someone with dementia faces before choosing a card game. They may not be able to see the cards very well, so large cards with a bigger font size are often the way to go. When you’re deciding on a game, try to abide by this rule of thumb: the simpler the rules, the better the experience.

Some good card game options include:

  • Go Fish
  • War
  • Solitaire
  • Crazy Eights
  • Hearts

Consider giving the player with dementia an assistant to help remind them of the rules and when it’s their turn. When you work as a team, your encouragement and cues go a long way toward making the experience less intimidating and more enjoyable for the senior. Every now and then, ask them to think of their next move on their own, which is sure to provide a greater sense of accomplishment if they win.

Start a Game Group at Cherrywood Pointe

Participating in a game is more fun with other people, and at Cherrywood Pointe, there is a large pool of competition to take on. If you have a loved one who is facing challenges with dementia, it’s important to provide them with a living environment that keeps their mind active. Not only is life at Cherrywood Pointe easier for those with dementia, but it also provides new opportunities for mental stimulation. Get in touch with our team to learn more about life at Cherrywood Pointe keeps our residents engaged every day.