We experience all kinds of changes as we mature, right?  Our hair may begin to gray and thin.  Our eyes may weaken and play tricks on us — denying clarity up-close and at a distance.  Our joints may begin to stiffen up and require a few extra minutes of stretching in the morning.  And, almost always, our brains become selective in what facts, figures and memories are able to be pulled up without effort.

The cosmetic industry has given us hair dye and mystical elixirs to hide the changes in our follicles; prescription lenses, corrective surgery and drugstore displays offer varying degrees of assistance with failing eyesight.  A slow walk around the block or on a treadmill — and maybe just a dollop of Icy Hot at night — loosens up achy knees and elbows.

And it can be just as easy to slow the ravages of aging on our brains.  And it’s even kind of fun!

Significant Benefits

Extensive scientific research proves that the positive impact on cognition from playing brain games is significant, even if the games themselves appear simple or repetitive.  In addition to being enjoyable, brain games of all levels of complexity offer myriad benefits:

  1. They can invoke a greater sense of independence and increase greater understanding of a person’s surroundings.
  2. Certain games may improve memory capabilities, motor skills, and concentration level.
  3. More advanced games help to develop a faster thinking, stimulate hand-eye coordination, and reduce reaction times.

And perhaps best of all, stimulating games come in all shapes and sizes and are tailored to all kinds of natural cognitive abilities.

Best Games to Play

Was your mother an accountant?  Start with games that feature numbers instead of words:  Sudoku, Kenken and card games (like Go Fish or Gin Rummy) are primarily based in mathematical calculations and may help stimulate those parts of the brain that come naturally to her.

Does your father love to read?  Crosswords, word searches and substitution cyphers (such as Crypto Quip) may be the best jumping off point for someone whose natural abilities lend themselves more to language than numbers.

Be Consistent

Regardless of innate abilities, it is incredibly helpful to encourage your parent to commit to consistently “playing” a variety of games to engage different parts of the brain.

In addition to word- and number-based games, general logic and memorization activities can boost overall brain strength.  And as an added bonus, research shows that seniors who experience success in trivia, memory and logic quizzes (games) have more self-confidence and tend to have a more optimistic overall worldview.

Computer and Tablet Play

If they are confident using a computer or tablet, you can find all kinds of game apps and websites.  Elevate and Brain HQ are two highly-rated examples.  Although it comes with a small annual fee, lumosity.com offers baseline testing and ongoing analysis of each player’s improvement and decline in each of five general cognitive areas:  Memory, Speed, Attention, Flexibility and Problem Solving.

Keep It Simple

If new-fangled devices are confusing or uncomfortable, it is absolutely acceptable to rely on simple, old-fashioned activities to stimulate memory and attention.  Naming the months of the year — forward, backward and in alphabetical order, for example is challenging for almost any age brain!  Locating a number of things in the room that start with the first letter of their last name or can fit in their pocket can begin to fire different parts of the brain that may be languishing.

Craft Kits

Another good idea is to introduce a seasonal craft kit.  Completing simple projects can help maintain dexterity in stiffening finger joints, encourage positive memories, and generate a sense of excitement for upcoming holidays, anniversaries or birthdays.

Time Together

Perhaps the best byproduct of brain games for your senior is the introduction of an activity you can do together.  Of course, you know that you are working toward improving Mom’s ability to solve problems, categorize information and make sound decisions quickly.  But maybe she just recognizes it as time spent with you, participating in an activity you both enjoy and having fun!