Stimulating activities and memory games for older adults can help people with memory loss on multiple levels. Games that exercise fine motor skills can enable people to continue performing daily tasks like tying shoes or washing dishes. Other activities can lessen agitation and depression and, most importantly, help a person feel more independent.
While activities and memory games for older adults are not proven to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s or other dementias, engaging in these pastimes can add everyday meaning that greatly improves quality of life.
Engage the brain with play
A study published in 2001 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias indicated that playing bingo could provide therapeutic mental stimulation to people with Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, individuals who played bingo performed significantly better on cognitive measures than participants who did not play.
In the study, staff caregivers reported increased alertness and awareness in the test subjects. Those gains lasted for several hours after playing the game. Whether these cognitively stimulating memory games for older adults provide long-term improvement is still unknown, but these short-term benefits can improve the day for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and for their caregiver.
The right memory games for older adults
When choosing a game to play with a loved one who has memory loss, take their skills into account and choose an activity that’s fun for them, not frustrating.
If ordinary games seem to be a good fit for your loved one, try adding a personal twist on memory games to maximize the benefits. Print two copies each of several family pictures and place them on a table. Let each player take turns naming a picture for the other player to find. This is a great way to stimulate the mind, help your loved one to recall their family members and spark conversation about family memories.
You can also purchase or create variations of low-intensity memory games that are appropriate for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another dementia. For example, the site Memory Jogging Puzzles includes puzzles and card games featuring Norman Rockwell art from The Saturday Evening Post. Karen Miller, who developed the games, found that the images resonated strongly with many of the residents who had Alzheimer’s at the assisted living center where she worked.
If these types of games seem too difficult for your loved one, simpler activities like sorting different sizes and colors of buttons, poker chips or bottle caps can be a more suitable alternative. For a more structured spin on this activity, try playing a game like Qwirkle, based on dominoes. Qwirkle offers players colorful game pieces, which can be used to play an organized game or to create patterns and images, depending on your loved one’s interest and ability.
Memory games for older adults should be “failure-free”
It’s important to ensure that activities and memory games for older adults don’t create feelings of failure, especially for people in later stages of dementia. Think flexibly and creatively. If your loved one finds the original “rules” of an activity frustrating or unengaging, let them set new guidelines for the game.
Games are just one of the many types of enjoyable activities you can share with your loved one who has dementia. In addition to these memory games for older adults, you can also try other pastimes that provide creative and nonverbal means of expression, including craft projects, musical activities and visual art.