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September 21, 2022
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Brain Games for Older Adults

We know that getting enough physical activity is an important part of healthy aging, but keeping your brain active is proving to be just as crucial. Although the research is inconclusive, it’s believed that challenging your brain creates more connections between brain cells and the different areas of the brain. These additional connections may encourage a ‘cognitive reserve’ to help compensate for age-related brain changes and potentially allow those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to remain more functional.

Brain games may help to create these connections. At the very least, they are a great way for older adults to avoid boredom, enjoy life and feel a sense of accomplishment. And combined with physical activity, a nourishing diet, social stimulation and other key lifestyle habits, challenging and activating your mind will help boost your cognitive health and overall quality of life. Everyone’s interests are different, but here are some of the activities that experts say are worth trying:

  • Sudoku: Sudoku is a number-placement puzzle played on a 9-by-9 grid of squares, subdivided into 3-by-3 boxes. Every row, column and box must contain the numbers one through nine and this requires logic, working memory and thinking ahead to complete. The skill level changes based on how few, or how many, boxes are already filled in. You can find Sudoku puzzles in daily newspapers, dedicated books or online. The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada releases a new Sudoku puzzle every day and the New York Times also posts three free puzzles each evening for all skill levels.
  • Crossword and Word Puzzles: Crosswords and other word games that require you to find hidden or missing words, build words or use definitions to identify words all help to stretch your cognitive skills. Words with Friends, similar to Scrabble, is a fun and free app to work on word retrieval which can become more difficult with age. The New York Times’ Wordle, where you guess the word of the day in six tries or less, is another online word game that has gained popularity with people of all ages.
  • Jigsaw Puzzles: Completing even a simple jigsaw puzzle is a great brain workout as it engages both sides of the brain—the left logical side and the right creative and intuitive side. Jigsaw puzzles are also excellent at building short-term memory as they require recalling details like colours, shapes and patterns. Puzzles challenge your visual-spatial reasoning as you look at individual pieces and figure out where they fit in the big picture. These skills can be applied to other areas of life like driving or packing a suitcase. Puzzling also has a meditative quality, is known to lower stress and anxiety levels and improve your mood.
  • Card and Board Games: Card and board games are not only fun and social, but also sharpen cognitive skills in aging adults. Whether you have to recall instructions, do quick math in your head, keep track of a certain pattern or anticipate the moves of other players, these games stimulate different areas of the brain. UNO, Monopoly, Sorry!, checkers, Clue and many other timeless games are known to support brain health and can even encourage healthy competition with grandkids and other loved ones.
  • Learn a New Skill: Research shows that acquiring new skills is the best way to keep an aging brain in shape. Enroll in an adult education course, try out new recipes, explore your genealogy, become more computer savvy, learn a musical instrument or another language. Although it may be harder for the brain to learn new skills as you age, taking on this challenge can improve memory, attention, thinking and reasoning in older adults.

Just like physical activity, there are many ways to stay mentally active. The brain isn’t a muscle, but behaves like one—if you don’t use it you will lose it. Incorporating brain exercises into your everyday life will challenge your mind, support cognitive skills and encourage you to learn something new and exciting in the process.