The Benefits of Brain Games for Seniors Citizens
The brain never stops growing, changing and adapting to new situations.
“Even as we age, our brain continues to develop new neurons and new neuronal connections,” says Jessica Langbaum, PhD, co-director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. “Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities and brain training over the course of your life can positively impact how well your brain functions, including memory, attention, thinking, language, and reasoning skills.”
If you’re looking for a new game, find one that engages you and challenges your mind. Here are a few suggestions.
This classic game challenges your ability to make order out of chaos. Your task is to maneuver columns of randomly ordered cards into stacks according to suit.
Although luck plays a big role, Solitaire also demands skill. The biggest challenge is to see all possible plays at any given time; it’s very easy to miss a crucial play, even when it’s right in front of you.
If your observational skills are exceptionally sharp, you will probably do well at Solitaire, and studies reveal that it can help you make better decisions.
Solitaire has a built-in bonus: it puts you into a mild meditative state that helps relieve stress and anxiety.
Sudoku is a game of logical reasoning and resourcefulness that can improve memory and concentration. It’s thought to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and improve your ability to think on your feet.
If you have ADHD, Sudoku can help drown out any distractions, as it requires your full attention. Played regularly, it may also relieve anxiety and stress.
A 2015 study of Scrabble champions revealed that high-level players used different brain areas to make lexical decisions compared to novices.
Researchers believe that this discovery could help those with neurodegenerative disorders that attack certain areas of the brain.
Can brain games make you more intelligent?
To answer this question, a distinction must first be made between brain games and brain training. Games are meant to stimulate cognition and test your ability to think, while brain training helps you learn strategies that can improve a particular brain function.
In other words, a brain-training session is like a rigorous physical workout, whereas a brain game is like an impromptu game of tennis.
Although games can be relaxing, fun, challenging, and stimulating, there is no evidence that they improve cognition or overall brain function. Cognitive training, on the other hand, is specifically designed to strengthen abilities like memory, focus, attention, processing speed, and reaction time.
As such, the scientific consensus so far is that while brain games and brain training have some impact on certain cognitive abilities, there is no proven boost to overall IQ scores. However, memory function does seem to improve in individuals who undergo certain forms of brain training, which in turn can have a positive impact on their tested intelligence.
“Working memory accounts for a large extent of the variation in fluid intelligence among individuals,” says Susanne Jaeggi, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine.
In a 2012 study, Dr. Jaeggi found that computer games designed to expand working memory increased other cognitive abilities that also rely on working memory, and that training the working memory appears to increase short-term neural activity. In the long term, as people’s cognitive abilities improve, the brain regions for working memory use less energy to accomplish their tasks.
“The neurons are better wired together, in a sense, and are more efficient,” she says. “That might help you do better in other tasks that rely on the same neural networks.”
The bottom line: games can boost memory
Certain games, such as Sudoku, have been proven to help maintain and develop memory function. According to Dr. Jaeggi, most cognitive improvement is achieved by those who start at the bottom and work their way up. In other words, people most in need of cognitive enhancement are most likely to benefit from brain training.
However, this has no bearing on an individual’s actual IQ score, which is strongly dependent on genetic factors and remains consistent throughout a person’s existence. In short, experts conclude that if you were a smart kid, you’ll be a smart old person – no matter what games you play.