With a rising senior population, you’ve probably already heard that aging can impact your mental abilities. Changes in your brain can make it harder to do things that you did before without any effort. And it’s avoiding or mitigating this that underlies the reasons why seniors should play brain games.
There are many reasons why seniors should play brain games. Playing brain games exercises your brain, helping improve the speed of thought and decision-making. This can help you carry out daily tasks, reduce the risk of dementia, and relieve depression. The benefits can enhance the quality of life.
You’re no doubt thinking that this all sounds very interesting, but you want to know more. Look no further. Below, we’ll go through 9 reasons why seniors should play brain games.
Improve Your Memory
Long-term memory is the store of knowledge that we build over our lifetimes. However, it’s a bit of a misnomer because even things that happened moments before fall into long-term memory.
Think of it as a permanent storage facility that you can access at will. However, some memories are more easily retrieved than others. And some diminish through time if we don’t reinforce them through recall and use.
In contrast, working memory is more in-the-moment. It’s like a temporary storage facility. It’s where we store and manipulate information to learn, complete tasks, or make decisions.
The Impact of Age on Memory
Both types of memory can deteriorate as you get older. You’ve probably noticed how it can sometimes be hard to think of the words you want to say or recall names or events. Or perhaps, you’ve found it more challenging to learn something new.
This deterioration in memory is a normal part of the aging process. Even healthy seniors with no age-related conditions like dementia experience it.
Can Brain Games Improve Seniors’ Memory?
Indeed there is evidence that you can improve memory. It comes from a study in early 2000 known as ACTIVE. The findings of that study suggest you can enhance your memory with the right brain training.
The study found that each training type improved the specific skill it targeted. So, the training that focused on memory improved the study participants’ memory skills. However, the skills not trained for didn’t improve.
The most significant benefit was apparent immediately after the training. The beneficial impact indeed reduced with time. However, even after five years, the improvements seen were still significant.
However, there was a rider to the findings. The rider concerned the participants who already had mild cognitive impairment (MCI). They didn’t show signs of memory improvement in this study.
However, a 2016 Australian review contradicts that last finding. Researchers reviewed over twenty years of studies. In their view, the evidence overall showed brain games did improve memory even in those with MCI. Only people already suffering from dementia saw no memory improvement.
So, don’t panic if you find you’re suffering from typical age-related memory deficits. There is reasonable evidence to suggest that playing brain games can help.
Improve Your Processing Speed and Reasoning
Once you reach your senior years, you’ll probably notice you need more time to think about how to do something. Or you may find it more challenging to process information. So, it’s harder to make decisions or solve a problem.
This is because the speed of processing and reasoning skills slow with age.
However, the ACTIVE study mentioned above provides hope for seniors. Researchers found appropriate training resulted in marked improvements in processing speed and reasoning ability. Again, the training had to be targeted at improving those specific cognitive skills.
You’ll recall from above that memory training in this study proved successful. But researchers found that processing speed and reasoning training was even more effective.
Further, a study from 2006 looked at the effect of booster training given to these two groups. It found that booster training resulted in additional improvement in these two functions.
What’s more, a 2007 follow-up report provided more heartening findings. It confirmed that even participants with MCI saw speed and reasoning improvements. That’s despite them seeing no gain from memory training.
Based on the evidence, playing brain games is a great idea for seniors. However, the benefits of playing brain games are more extensive, as you’ll see next.
Boost Ability To Perform Everyday Tasks
Researchers in the ACTIVE study found the training benefits went beyond improving the targeted skills. It had a knock-on effect. They found that participants were also better able to perform basic everyday tasks.
A study reported in 2015 reinforced this finding. It looked at the impact of online brain training on cognition in older adults. Other studies had used in-person training.
This study randomly split the participants into two groups. One group’s training focused on reasoning tasks. The other group undertook general cognitive training.
Researchers found that playing online brain games helped both groups in their daily living tasks. But, the online reasoning training group saw the most significant improvement.
Better still, another study in 2012 provided more good news concerning the ability to perform everyday tasks. It found that the positive impact of the reasoning and speed training given in the ACTIVE study was still apparent after ten years.
However, according to the ACTIVE study, playing frequency is essential. So, you’ll need to play brain games often to increase the benefits. In the study, participants had played the games five times a week.
What’s behind the results of these studies? Well, reasoning is a crucial component of executive function. And the executive function is vital in the performance of day-to-day living activities.
Often, it’s the executive function that suffers first in the aging process. And that can lead to seniors losing their independence. That’s because an impaired executive function can affect your ability to do day-to-day tasks. For example, you may struggle to cook for yourself. Or, you may find it hard to deal with your finances or medication.
No-one wants to lose their independence. And it doesn’t need to be an inevitable part of aging. Based on these reports, playing brain games may help you avoid it happening.
Reduce Your Risk of Trips and Falls
The fear makes them less active. Inactivity leads to greater vulnerability to balance and cognitive issues. In turn, that leads to an increased risk of falling. It’s something of a vicious circle.
Strange as it may sound, but brain games that enhance executive function also help seniors’ reduce the risk of trips and falls.
It’s because executive function affects your performance of tasks related to perception, response, and planning. Attention control and reasoning skills to solve problems are aspects of executive function. And these executive functions are necessary to maintain correct posture. They also help you avoid obstacles and keep your balance when walking.
They’re the skills that enable you to navigate away from hazards or adapt your movement to prevent falls. That’s why, if you have an impairment in these functions, you may be more prone to trip or fall.
Clearly, if you can reduce the risk of trips and falls when you reach your senior years, that can bring a real improvement in your quality of life. It means you can stay mobile, giving you greater independence.
Playing brain games forces you to exercise attention control and focus on the task at hand. And you’ve already seen how playing can enhance reasoning skills. More good reasons why seniors should play brain games.
Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
There was another follow-up to the ACTIVE study mentioned above. This time, researchers explored whether the brain training undertaken helped reduce dementia risks.
The researchers reviewed participants after ten years from the original study. They found no reduction in the risk for those who undertook the memory or reasoning training. But, those in the processing speed training group had a 29% less chance of developing dementia.
The speed training involved computer-based adaptive exercises. Participants had to identify random objects appearing on the screen. The objects appeared both in their direct line of sight and their periphery. And they were given less and less time to respond as the exercise progressed.
But, the researchers acknowledged that further investigation would need to be carried out. So you shouldn’t necessarily take the report as definitive.
Still, it’s encouraging if you’re concerned about how you can avoid developing dementia in later life. After all, data shows that millions of Americans over sixty-five have dementia.
Okay, the evidence isn’t conclusive. However, if you might avoid the condition by playing brain games, that’s a good reason for doing so. Playing can do no harm and may prove beneficial in avoiding this debilitating disease.
Increase Social Interaction
Social isolation can pose a serious mental health risk for older people. It can ultimately reduce your ability to carry out normal daily functions and increase your risk of death.
Loneliness is a particular issue as you grow older. Children grow up and leave home. And once you retire, the regular social contact you had through work goes too. The bereavement of a spouse or aging friends can also reduce sources of interaction.
Consequently, loneliness is a serious health concern in old age. Encouragingly, A 2019 study confirmed overcoming loneliness can improve seniors’ mental health.
The study looked at the effect on seniors of taking part in social activities and game playing. The research found it led to a significant reduction in seniors’ risk of suffering from mild cognitive impairment. That condition is often a precursor to dementia.
Several brain games combine social interaction with mental stimulation. Of course, it can be hard to get together physically with people to play these games.
If that’s the case for you, don’t worry. You can play online, even if you don’t have your own partner or friends to play with.
Examples of sites where you can do this are:
Whether you get together in person or play these or other brain games online, the more you do, the better it is for you. The 2019 study found that doing more activities resulted in the lowest cognitive impairment risk.
Even if you’ve never experienced it before, the risk of depression increases in older people.
According to the CDC, around 80% of older people suffer from at least one chronic illness. About 50% have at least two. That’s on top of other physical and mental aging processes and life events that occur. So, it’s not surprising that there’s an increased depression risk.
The problem is that depression in seniors can be life-threatening. It’s a major risk factor in suicide in older adults.
Drug therapies are commonly used to treat depression. But drugs can have undesirable side-effects for some people. Sometimes, they may have no effect. Or, it may take a lengthy process of trial and error to find one that works for you.
For some, the drugs might even make you feel worse. That’s the last thing you want at any age, let alone in your senior years.
But there’s good news because playing computer games can reduce depression symptoms. That was the finding of a study in 2014.
Participants in that study played computer games for thirty hours in four weeks. The games they played targeted the executive functions linked to depression. These include visual attention, cognitive flexibility, and dual tasking, amongst others.
The study found their symptom relief was just as good as in patients given the antidepressant drug escitalopram.
However, what stood out was that:
- The positive effect of playing computer games was manifest within four weeks. This was a much shorter time-frame than the twelve weeks achieved with the drug therapy.
- The therapy worked even though the participants were resistant to conventional drug treatments. Each had tried drugs before, but without success.
- The researchers also found improved executive function in the participants. This was something the drug therapy didn’t do as effectively.
The last point is significant. Impaired executive function can be a major cause of many issues, including depression. And, as you’ve already read, it can affect your ability to perform daily tasks. So, finding ways of improving it is crucial.
What’s more, the study participants were still benefiting from the cognitive improvements three months on.
So, if ever you needed an excuse to while away the hours playing computer games, there it is.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced boredom at some point in your life. It’s that feeling when you desperately want to do something, but you don’t know exactly what. Time seems to drag on endlessly, and nothing sparks your interest or motivates you.
While boredom isn’t age-related, it’s something you can become prone to as you grow older. This may be due to several factors. For example:
- You’ll probably have less or no social contact through work or family
- Or maybe you’re not able to get out and about like you used to because of mobility or other issues
- The cognitive changes that occur naturally with age are also a contributing factor. A study in Ireland found a link between a tendency towards boredom and cognitive decline in elderly people
It’s easy to dismiss boredom as trivial. But, the lack of direction and engagement can lead to increased brain function impairment. That’s why chronic boredom can be a real health issue for seniors.
Boredom has also been linked to a higher risk of early death. That’s not to say boredom kills. However, it may be a factor in unhealthy lifestyle choices.
For example, it may lead to unhealthy eating habits or inactivity. Or it may cause substance abuse as a way to relieve the boredom. Choices like these can lead to an early death.
Chronic boredom can also lead to a loss of a sense of purpose, leaving you feeling depressed and suicidal.
Since boredom is linked to cognitive decline, minimizing that decline can reduce your risk of chronic boredom and its health risks. Playing brain games that challenge and stimulate your mind is a great way to do this.
Improve Overall Well Being
When you look at the benefits of keeping your brain exercised by playing brain games, you can see there’s something of a domino effect in play.
Not only can you improve cognitive function, but doing so has a knock-on effect. It enhances your ability to deal with daily life tasks. It also helps keep you mobile, allowing you to reduce the risk of falls, giving you a greater sense of independence.
You can see where we’re going with this. Ultimately, playing brain games can give you a better quality of life. In turn, that will provide an overall boost to your general wellbeing.
If you want to get started, the following video has three simple brain game ideas that you can do anywhere and any time:
Clearly, playing brain games as a senior is far from being a Trivial Pursuit.
Retaining mental vitality is crucial throughout your lifespan. But it’s imperative in your senior years. As you’ve seen, there’s scientific evidence that playing brain games improves seniors’ mental health.
And improving your mental health increases your ability to perform day-to-day tasks. That will keep you active and independent, enhancing your quality of life.
There’s no better reason why seniors should play brain games. As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
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- Bridge Base Online: Play Bridge Now
- Chess: Home
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- Springer: Dual-Task performance in Motor Learning
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- Wikipedia: Trivial Pursuit