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, yet that’s about as low tech as you can get. However, clinical trials indicate Bingo improves memory and cognition when people with dementia including Alzheimer’s play.
Bingo has many advantages as a game for people who have dementia. It comes not only in the familiar “B-6, N-23” version, but in a number of alternative schemes that are stimulating on different levels and for different abilities. Players can identify anything from animals or items of food, to body parts or playing cards. These variations allow people in varying stages of dementia and with varying abilities to play. Like so many games, Bingo can stimulate memories, thought process, and other cognitive functions.
Games for People With Alzheimer’s Can be Simple
In 2007 I began researching Alzheimer’s sometime in 2007, trying to figure out what the disease was and why it effected a person the way it did. I was looking for scientific and medical publications as well as best-care practices. Early in my search I came across a study in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia. The authors reported that playing Bingo provides mental stimulation that is highly therapeutic for people with cognitive disorders. Individuals participating in the study who played Bingo performed significantly better on measures of cognition than participants who did not play. Staff members reported increases in alertness and awareness in the test subjects, and this effect lasted for hours after testing was complete.
Bingo is an ideal game for many people with dementia. People of all ages enjoy playing it every day, 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. Some Bingo variations require matching colors and shapes. Others might require one to recognize animals. Regardless of the scheme, Bingo stimulates the brain. That is why the study above found playing the game improved cognitive functioning.
Games for people with Alzheimer’s should be played for stimulation. Downplay the competitive aspect of gaming if your group requires that. Furthermore, Bingo is not just a game for large groups. Small groups of two or three, or even one (with a caregiver) will enjoy playing. 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.
Surprisingly, 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.
Moreover, 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.[pullquote]… results suggest that frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities is associated with reduced risk of AD.[/pullquote]
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 will hold a special attraction for an older woman with dementia. Alzheimer’s and some other types of dementia are characterized by short term memory problems. On the other hand, older memories stick around much longer. Not only will her familiarity with a remembered activity make it enjoyable, but old associations can evoke old memories. This reminiscing process is, in itself, beneficial. Furthermore, the benefit is magnified 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.
Manipulating the pieces kept Bernice’s hands and fingers limber; at least in a relative sense. She was in her 90s after all. Moreover, 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 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.
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 minutes. 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, including games for people with Alzheimer’s, 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. As a matter of fact, the game variations are all based upon exercises that research has shown improves brain connections and enhances memory. For these reasons and more, PicLink is a wonderful game for younger people as well.
- 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.
We really feel this is a good game!
Texture Matching Game is another activity that combines game play with sensory input. This time it’s the sense of touch that is required to match unseen surfaces.
The game contains 16 pairs of textured pucks that can be used all at once or in lesser quantities depending on ability. Always look for alternative ways to play games to adapt them to individual abilities.
A Collection of some of our favorite games and some puzzles
This bundle is perfect for Professional Care Providers, Memory Care Communities, and Dementia Friendly Libraries!
Games and Puzzles Box for Alzheimer’s and for others with dementia. We know from experience that a visitor to a loved one in Memory Care, armed with an appropriate activity, will create a much more meaningful visit. Both visitor and visitee will enjoy their time together more with something to inspire meaningful engagement.
Libraries love this, and our other bundles. It is a way for patrons to check out a great variety of fun and beneficial games and puzzles to do with loved ones at home.
It gives professional care providers a great selection of fun stuff to engage those for whom they care.
What game is more iconic than Checkers?
You will have to look far and long to find anyone who has not played checkers. And even if you do find someone, chances are they at least know the game.
That familiarity is part of what makes this a good choice as a game for Alzheimer’s, or any dementia. Playing checkers will likely arouse memories of times past. Remembering and talking about those memories is called “reminiscing”. And as we know, reminiscing is therapeutic.
Games for People With Alzheimer’s
- Wilson RS, Mendes de Leon CF, Barnes LL, et al. Participation in Cognitively Stimulating Activities and Risk of Incident Alzheimer Disease. JAMA. 2002;287(6):742-748. doi:10.1001/jama.287.6.742.
… results suggest that frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities is associated with reduced risk of AD.
- Dr. Susan M. Landau, PhD, Mr. Shawn M. Marks, et. al. Association of Lifetime Cognitive Engagement and Low β-Amyloid DepositionArch Neurol. May 2012; 69(5): 623–629.
Our data are consistent with the observation that participation in cognitively stimulating activities in early to middle life is associated with lower Aβ (Amyloid plaque – one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease) accumulation.
- Verghese J, Lipton RB, Katz MJ, et. al. Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. N Engl J Med. 2003 Jun 19;348(25):2508-16.
Participation in leisure activities is associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
The study study we referenced at the beginning of this page concluded that playing Bingo specifically provides mental stimulation that is highly therapeutic. Patients participating in the study performed significantly better on measures of cognition. Staff members reported increases in alertness and awareness for hours after testing.
There is a host of clinical investigations that have arrived at similar conclusions. At the left we cite a number of references and briefly quote the findings of the researchers. There are many similar studies
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