Games for People With Alzheimer’s
Good for the brain – and they are fun!
Games for people with Alzheimer’s can be low-tech, high-tech, or anything in between. Every care community in the world probably has a Bingo game – and that’s about as low tech as you can get – yet Bingo has been shown clinically to have positive effects when played by Alzheimer’s and other people who have dementia.
Bingo is an ideal game for many people with dementia. It is enjoyed everyday by people of all ages, so it certainly is age-appropriate. Bingo is easy to understand and play, so it is stage-specific for anyone except those in the very last stages of the disease. The familiar game requires that the person distinguish letters and numbers. In some Bingo knock-off games it might be required to match colors and shapes, Regardless of the scheme, Bingo stimulates the brain. That is why the study above found playing the game improved cognitive functioning.
Games for Alzheimer’s should be played for stimulation. The competitive aspect of the game should be de-emphasized. And Bingo is not just a game for large groups. It can be enjoyed by a group of two or three. Or even one (with a caregiver). Whenever possible and whatever the game, have children play with the older adults. Both age groups enjoy the stimulation and the social interaction.
At the other extreme…
a computer based game called Smartbrain was shown to positively affect brain function in people with Alzheimer’s in an adult day facility in Spain. As reported in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, the game improved cognition in a group of elderly people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Smartbrain provides stimulation to cognitive facilities like attention and memory.
It seems that even the diseased brain retains the ability to make new neurological connections. Since a computer game can be programmed to work on the needs and at the level of the person playing it, this technology holds some promise in the field of dementia care.
The researchers found that, when used in addition to the facility’s regular program, the game “greatly augmented the traditional psychomotor stimulation….” When both treatments were used together the cognitive benefit was extended to 24 weeks.”
Posit Science makes a product similar to the Smartbrain used in the study. Called Brain Fitness, it is being used successfully by several residential facilities in the U.S. to keep brains younger. And Nintendo has gotten into the game with a product called Brain Age. Though originally intended to improve the working of healthy brains, these products are proving to be effective therapy for people with dementia.
Like everything computer, electronic games will not totally replace more conventional ones, but should be considered as an important addition to an activity program whenever possible.
Selecting Games for People with Alzheimer’s
Games for people with Alzheimer’s disease should work on several levels. A board game with a colorful playing surface and objects that can be handled (cards, dice, etc.) is better than a game that does not contain these features; the more sensory stimulation the better (but be careful with objects that are small enough to be placed in the mouth). Many games involve a physical component. Physical exercise is another element to consider in selecting a game, but don’t choose all your games based on exercise.
… results suggest that frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities is associated with reduced risk of AD.
And be sure to allow the people in your care to have a say in the selection process. A game that she played with her children when they were growing up, or one that she played as a child will likely hold a special attraction for a woman who’s memory of her past is more vivid than her memory of things more recent. That familiarity with the activity will serve to stimulate memories at the same time that it holds attention. And it gets even better if there little ones about to play along.
We chose the Qwirkle™ game for Bernice partly because the wooden tiles were an easy size for her to handle, and because she loved colors and shapes.
Qwirkle is well suited for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Thirty six black wooden tiles measuring 1¼”× 1¼” each contain a colorful shape; the combination of color and shape affords a pleasing visual contrast. Put together in an array the effect was even more stimulating.
Manipulating the pieces kept Bernice’s hands and fingers limber; at least in a relative sense. She was in her 90s after all. Bernice loved to share what she created and ask for help and suggestions. This gave her a reason to talk, to communicate, something that can be difficult as dementia progresses.
Qwirkle is a strategic game. Players create and build upon lines based on the same color or shape. The rules are a little involved, but people in early stages of Alzheimer’s could likely play the game as intended. In fact, it is great mental stimulation. In the picture, Bernice was approaching the later stage, and so she she arranged the tiles in any way she wanted; by color, and/or shape. Or she just created pretty patterns.
Because of her love of design, she would match some by color and others by shape. She concentrated on her design, working sometimes for more than 30 minutesSave. She was obviously quite pleased with herself and her final product. Except for a few tiles, they were matched either by shape or by color; but even her mis-matches were not mistakes. Remember, activities should always be “no-fail.”
Recommended Games for People With Alzheimers
No Rules Just Ways to Play
PicLink consists of 36 tiles and instructions with a variety of fun ways to play. An added challenge is to invent your own ways to play.
Designed specifically to benefit people with cognitive and memory impairment, PicLink is a wonderful game for younger people as well. The games are based upon exercises that research has shown improves brain connections and enhances memory.
- Reinforces the memory process
- Encourages social and conversational interaction
- As a group activity promotes fellowship among seniors and between care-partners
- Creates new and strengthens old links to memories and inspires reminiscing
Arouses creativity through story telling
Good Smelly Fun
This Fragrance Bingo is a most original game!
Follow Your Nose encourages exploration and discovery through the player’s sense of smell. Included are 30 distinct aroma diffusers in tamper-resistant flasks which players match to the corresponding image found on five brightly illustrated game boards.
What we always liked about Follow Your Nose is that it involves the sense of smell. And it’s a game! It is difficult to create an activity that stimulates both the olfactory sense and cognition at the same time that it elicits memories. So you can see why we are so excited.
Connect the past to the present with these games.
Five “Shake Loose…” games are not only fun to play but can be a part of a comprehensive reminiscence therapy program. Developed by specialists in the field of gerontology and recreation, each easy to play game contains questions that will unlock memories as it provides hours of fun and social interaction.
The games asks questions like, “Did your grandfather smoke, or did he dislike smoking?” Questions to stimulate discussion as well as memories.
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