Chess, Monopoly, Scrabble, Go fish—and once upon a time, I bet most of you were addicted to Candy Crush. Games are not solely a form of childhood amusement. In fact, even senior citizens reap the benefits of having fun. Games for seniors improve cognitive skills, stimulates the brain to prevent dementia, and provides socialization for healthy well-being.
The Aging Brain: Cognitive Skills During Senior Adulthood
The brain consists of two types of gray and white matter. White matter tissue is home to specialized cells called neurons and the nerve fibers known as axons. The axons are encapsulated with myelin—a fatty sheath that facilitates the exchange of chemical messages throughout the nervous system. Learning and various other brain functions are possible because white matter allows communication between different areas of the brain.
As an individual ages, overall brain volume decreases, especially the amount of white matter. This leaves the elderly prone to memory loss, as well as a decline in other cognitive skills like attention. These subtle changes in white matter are considered normal. However, a more pronounced loss or damage to white matter is associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Researchers (Liu, 2017) have found that an older brain is susceptible to lesions, cerebral bleeding, and disease.
The Benefits of Games For Seniors
The benefits of games for seniors are vast. With the sharp reduction in brain matter during the aging process, playing games strengthens neural connections in the brain. As the brain grows stronger, it can regenerate those damaged connections in the white matter. They are less likely to become affected by disease. The New England Journal of Medicine documents studies reflecting a decreased incidence of dementia in seniors who partake in board games and card games as leisure activities.
Games are also beneficial for mental health. Playing games that are enjoyable increases feelings of happiness. Additionally, games typically involve multiple players which foster the opportunity for socialization and forming friendships that boost mood.
Online Games For Seniors
Most seniors are not known for being computer savvy. Still, research proves that 38% of adults over the age of 50 play video games. Whether online through a laptop or desktop computer, a gaming console, or a smart phone application, virtual games are helpful for repetition of tasks focused on cognitive abilities.
- Candy Crush—A match-three puzzle game with the goal of matching three or more pieces of candy of the same color by swapping candy pieces vertically or horizontally.
- Words With Friends—The virtual version of Scrabble where players are given seven letter tiles that are each assigned a point value. Players must form words and strategically place them on the board to earn the most points.
- Bejeweled—Similar to Candy Crush, players must swap gems to create vertical or horizontal chains of three or more gems of the same color.
- Tetris—Based on tetriminos, the aim of Tetris is to clear rows by horizontally arranging falling blocks of varying shapes and speeds without empty rows of space.
- Elevate—A gaming app for games that improve vocabulary, grammar, and speaking and listening skills.
Card games For Seniors
Card games are a classic! Cards are inexpensive, do not require extra tools or equipment, and they encourage socialization because they involve multiple people to play. For seniors, card games stimulate the brain by testing the player’s strategy and chance.
- Uno—Players match card numbers, colors, or words until one card remains.
- Phase 10—The object of Phase 10 is to be the first to complete all of the 10 phases using cards dealt at random.
- Crazy Eights—Match cards to the card on top of the starter pile in suit or number until the winner discards all of their cards.
- Go Fish—Try to get four suits of the same rank by requesting cards from other players.
- Bridge—Bridge is played in partners or teams and the team who wins does so by making bids and tricks.
- Rummy—Players rush to order all of their cards in the same rank or sequence.
- Solitaire—In ascending order, organize cards by suit.
- Poker—A betting game where players make bets on who has the better hand of cards that are of the highest value.
- SkipBo—Stack the cards in your hand in sequential order to use all of the cards in the stockpile.
- Lowdown—By placing nine cards in rows of three, replace high scoring cards with low scaring cards to have the least number of points out of all players.
Number Games For Seniors
Paying bills, shopping, measuring ingredients while cooking—numbers are frequently applied to everyday tasks. Games that involve numbers refine math skills in ways more fun than calculating tedious equations.
- Yahtzee—A dice game where players roll and decide which combinations of numbers to keep or which to roll again.
- Farkle—Roll dice until the score equals 500.
- Sudoku—A puzzle game with the goal of each column and row in the 9×9 grid contains all digits from 1 to 9.
- Count Backwards—Practice counting backward from various starting points, patterns, and sequences.
- Color By Numbers—Coloring by numbers combines the ability to count with the art and creativity of coloring.
Word Games For Seniors
Word games challenge vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and communication by testing logic and reasoning. The brain is fully engaged, as games involving words strengthen the connections in both the right and the left side of the brain.
- Scrabble—Arrange tiles in a crossword-style on a grid to form words with the highest point score.
- Scattergories—Roll a dice to choose a letter and then name as many objects as possible on a list using the same letter.
- Boggle—16 letter cubes are contained in a domed grid. Shake the grid to mix up the letters. Players must form as many words as possible using connecting letters (i.e. adjacent letters).
- Word Search—Hidden amongst a grid of miscellaneous letters, find specific words on a list. The words can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or backward. Word search puzzles are featured in newspapers and gamebooks.
- Taboo—Guess the word on the player’s card using hints listed on the card.
- Bananagrams—Each player is given a set of letter tiles contained in a banana pouch. The first to build a crossword grid with all of their tiles wins.
- Upwords—Upwords is similar to Scrabble, but the letter tiles can be stacked on top of each other.
- Rhyming Ball—The starting player throws a ball to another player while saying a word. The player with the ball has to come up with a new word that rhymes before throwing the ball to the next player.
Board Games For Seniors
Board games are a popular form of entertainment for seniors. The majority of board games can be played sitting down, which is optimal for those with mobility concerns, and the rules can be modified to accommodate physical challenges. Board games are versatile, as the object of the games differ to target a variety of cognitive abilities. Including at least two players, studies report evidence of board games reducing the occurrence of depression in the elderly population.
- Chess—A two player strategy game where each person takes turns moving pieces of contrasting colors across files and ranks.
- Monopoly—Taking turns rolling dice, players move around the board while securing properties, developing them, and trading them with other players until a player declares bankruptcy.
- Cranium—Players are assigned a piece that moves around the board. They battle to complete activities before the timer runs out. Activities include drawing, answering trivia questions, filling in the blank, or acting out an activity written on the card.
- Pictionary—One player chooses a card from a deck and draws the object written on that card. Other players try to guess the word.
- Checkers— Using a checkered board, players move their pieces diagonally to jump over and collect all of the opponent’s pieces.
- Sequence—The object of Sequence is for players to create columns, rows, and diagonals on the board with spaces based on all of the cards in a standard 52-card deck.
- Trouble—Players roll the dice to be the first to move all four of their pieces around the board.
- Sorry—Much like Trouble, players roll a dice to move each of their pawns to their home base.
- Backgammon—A two-player game where each player moves their checkers between 24 triangles according to the number on the dice.
Physical Activity Games For Seniors
Exercise is an important part of maintaining physical and mental health. Being that seniors are prone to medical complications, physical activity is crucial to their health routine. Lifting weights, walking, or doing repeated reps of body weight exercises is tedious for some. Instead, physical activity games allow seniors to reach their allotment of physical exercise that incorporates their hobbies or interests. Research even shows “physically active older adults showed greater increases in white matter volume” (Colcombe, 2006).
Common games involving physical activity that are appropriate for seniors providing they receive medical clearance from their physician. These include activities such as golf, dance, badminton, tennis, crochet, frisbee, horseshoes, shuffleboard, whiffle ball, and swimming.
Craft Games For Seniors
Seniors like an outlet to express their creativity. While card games, board games, and virtual games are enjoyable, they are limited in artistry. Crafting triggers the brain to release dopamine, which creates feelings of happiness and initiates the process of building new neurons in the brain to fight the effects of aging. Physicians who are published in the American Journal of Public Health have introduced crafting to patients with dementia and have had memory improvements of up to 70 percent!
Basic crafts like painting, sewing, knitting, are great. Consider unique crafts like constructing and decorating a birdhouse, jewelry making, designing greeting cards for friends or other loved ones, or scrapbooking to preserve cherished memories.
Group Games For Seniors
Many board and card games are multiple players, which encourages group or team cooperation. However, there are games that are played in much larger groups than the usual game of cards. This socialization is needed to keep their minds sharp through intellectual conversations with peers. Seniors with consistent, active social lives are generally less anxious, are not as likely to develop depression, and a have higher self-esteem than seniors who remain isolated.
- Bingo—The purpose of Bingo is to have 5 connecting spaces on the board called. Bingo is the most common game played in group homes because it accommodates large groups and is inexpensive. It stimulates the senses (i.e. hearing, sight, touch).
- Twister—The traditional Twister is not senior-friendly, as most are not physically able to contort their bodies. However, bean bag Twister is played by tossing bean bags on the mat. Each color on the board is allotted a point system, and the number of points given depends on what color the beanbag lands on.
- Game Show Games—Recreating favorite game show games like “The Price Is Right,” “Family Feud,” and “Wheel of Fortune” engages large groups.
Memory Games For Seniors
Out of all of the cognitive skills, memory is the skill most effected by aging. Playing games that focus on memory tasks specifically reducing the extent of memory loss. Seniors with dementia especially benefit from games targeting memory.
- Memory Tray—Miscellaneous items are put on a tray. After players look at the tray, it is covered up. Later, they must try to remember the items on the tray.
- Memory Match—An interactive memory game for seniors where cards are placed face down on a surface and players flip over two cards at a time in attempts to find a match. Once the cards are matched, they are remain flipped over upright.
- Simon—An electronic memory game where players have to remember and repeat color sequences on a device.
- Grocery List—Using memory recall, players memorize a shopping list and are required to place every item in a hypothetical shopping cart. The first to fill the cart correctly wins!
- Trivia—Trivia games test the knowledge on subjects such as science, history, facts about musicians, or television shows. These games train memory, as players have to retrieve the answer from their memory.
- Finish the Phrase—Players are supposed to finish the sentence of phrases.
Colcombe, S. J., Erickson, K. I., Scalf, P. E., Kim, J. S., Prakash, R., McAuley, E., et al. (2006). Aerobic exercise training increases brain volume in aging humans. J. Gerontol. A Biol. Sci. Med. Sci. 61, 1166–1170. doi: 10.1093/gerona/61.11.1166
Liu, H., Yang, Y., Xia, Y., Zhu, W., Leak, R. K., Wei, Z., Wang, J., & Hu, X. (2017). Aging of cerebral white matter. Ageing research reviews, 34, 64–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2016.11.006
Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. American journal of public health, 100(2), 254–263. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497
Cheyanne is currently studying psychology at North Greenville University. As an avid patient advocate living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, she is interested in the biological processes that connect physical illness and mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys immersing herself in a good book, creating for her Etsy shop, or writing for her own blog.