10 November 2022

Benefits of puzzles and brain games for the elderly

7 min read

Exercising the mind to keep it active is as important as maintaining physical fitness and strength in older age. Throughout our lives, our brain is responsible for keeping us happy and as we get older, mental health is often a major part of being able to live independently.

To ensure that the brain works as best as it can, the mind needs to be challenged every day. Thankfully, exercising the mind can be fun and easy to do thanks to quick games, tasks and activities that can be enjoyed anywhere and by anyone. The benefits of puzzles go beyond potentially preventing memory loss. Read on about the advantages of brain games for seniors.

How do puzzles help the elderly?

Brain games and puzzles provide an older person the opportunity to use their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Jigsaw puzzles for eg, exercise the left and right sides of your brain at once. Your left brain is logical and works in a linear fashion, while your right brain is creative and intuitive. When you're doing a jigsaw puzzle, both sides are engaged, according to Sanesco Health, an industry leader in neurotransmitter testing. Think of it as a mental workout that improves your problem-solving skills and attention span. Jigsaw puzzles also increase your short-term memory and visual-spatial reasoning. They are also a great stress reliever and meditation tool. Recent research published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry by the University of Exeter shows that elderly individuals who regularly do puzzles have sharper minds.

Why are brain games important?

In addition to puzzles, brain games also increase the production of dopamine, a chemical that regulates mood, memory, and concentration. Dopamine is released with every success as we solve the puzzle. Games help to form new connections within your brain cells, improving your short-term memory. A study done by the University of Michigan even found that people who do puzzles for 25 minutes a day showed an improvement in their IQ scores by four points. or ageing adults who have trouble focusing on various tasks, puzzles can be a great way to stimulate cognitive skills, like concentration. Puzzles take not only concentration but also dedication to a specific activity, whether it’s visual focus, mental focus, or both. Word searches and crossword puzzles are excellent for seniors, as they engage the eyes and the mind. Crosswords, in particular, call for recalling facts, which helps enhance concentration ability and memory function.

What are the best games to play?

1. Arts and crafts to keep the mind active and the hands nimble. This is a brilliant way to encourage the use of imagination, and to also help maintain dexterity in hands and fingers
2. Word Puzzles give the brain a great work out – and even if not all of the conundrums in the puzzle are solved, simply putting in the effort to work out the answer is what makes the difference to brain health
3. Connection games such as joining pairs of words help to stimulate the brain and allow it to make connections
4. Bingo, a fun, easy and stimulating game that will benefit three key senses, hearing, touch and sight. It also helps to reduce loneliness and increase a sense of wellbeing
5. Fun and interactive online games help to enhance memory and improve mental health and can be played anywhere. Even the least technologically savvy older person can play online games
6. Logic puzzles to help with out of the box thinking will encourage lateral thinking and help to fire up neural pathways that have likely been dormant since retiring
7. Memory games, will target memory and attention, essential for older people as they can easily diminish with lack of use
8. Sudoku for seniors. Sudoku is a logic game that involves problem seeking and patterns. The skills developed with this game have real-world implications by helping older adults assess the repercussions of decisions they are faced with everyday
9. Trivia games encourage the older person to read more and use their memory, all whilst stimulating their mind. It is also great for a laugh and social inclusion
10. Chess will boost planning skills, strategy, brain health, mental wellbeing, focus and concentration.

For older people, brain training should be conducted as much as possible to get maximum benefits and positive impacts can be seen in a very short period. A recent study found that elderly people who spent five to six weeks consistently completing brain exercises such as memory tasks and number puzzles, experienced improvements to their mental health in areas of memory, reasoning, and information processing. The effects of these exercises lasted at least five years.

In support, other research conducted by King’s College London, found big improvements in daily tasks and memory as a result of brain training. Playing brain games can help to reduce and slow down the negative mental effects brought on by old age significantly, adding several more good brain years to life. Recent studies have shown that you only need five minutes per day on brain boosting puzzles or games in order to significantly increase mental wellbeing.

Regardless of age, connecting with others is an essential component of an individual’s overall well-being. It’s not uncommon for seniors to become isolated when they leave the workforce or living alone. Whether it’s bridge, Monopoly, Yahtzee, checkers, or going out for bingo night, ageing adults can benefit from interacting with friends and meeting new people. Working on a jigsaw puzzle together requires teamwork and cooperation. Playing one-on-one board games like chess and checkers provides an opportunity to have meaningful conversations. And teaming up in friendly competitions can spark a sense of camaraderie and solidarity. But perhaps most importantly, socializing with others, over puzzles and games is just a lot of fun.

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