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.
We have found 22 of the best, tried and tested, brain training games and activities that are especially suited for older people, and are sure to be fun and effective. Try them out and see what you, and your older friends, think!
1. Arts and crafts to keep the mind active and the hands nimble
For older people, making things is not only a brilliant way to use imagination, but it can also help to maintain dexterity in hands and fingers whilst creating bespoke items for the home, or gifts for friends and family. Arts and crafts don’t have to be elaborate or expensive either. Why not try upcycling old photo frames with paper collage, making greeting cards from magazines or knitting items for new babies?
2. Keep the brain buzzing with word puzzles
Word puzzles are an enjoyable challenge that can get the brain buzzing and give the mind a work out. Even if not all of the conundrums in a puzzle are solved, simply trying to figure out the answer, working with other people and putting in the effort, is what makes the difference to brain health. Challenge yourself with the example below, or find many more word puzzles online or in word puzzle books available from most stationary and book stores.
The aim of this puzzle is to help stimulate the brain and allow it to make connections.
Here’s how to play. In the left column there are a pair of words. Your goal is to find a third word that is connected or associated with both of these two words. Let’s take the first pair as an example: PIANO and LOCK. The answer is KEY. The word key is connected with both the word piano and the word lock: there are KEYS on a piano and you use a KEY to lock doors. Now it is your turn, try out the next five:
LOCK – PIANO
SHIP – CARD
TREE – CAR
SCHOOL – EYE
PILLOW – COURT
RIVER – MONEY
(Click here for more information and puzzles along with the answers)
Bingo is a fun and easy activity that can be played in large or small groups. It is one of the most common activities of older adults who live in care homes or who attend day centres, and can easily be replicated in or out of the home. Playing bingo is not only fun and stimulating, but it also has a number of health benefits for seniors.
For example, it can help to stimulate three key senses: hearing (when the numbers are called), touch (using the pens to dab and holding the card), and sight. Bingo is also a great social activity that can help to reduce loneliness and increase a sense of wellbeing.
4. Fun and interactive online games
There are hundreds of brain boosting games available online that can help to enhance memory and improve mental health in the elderly whilst out and about. Even for the least techno-savvy individuals, online games are easy to find, quick to access, and fun to play. They can even be played in multi-player mode.
5. Logic puzzles to help with out-of-the-box thinking
Logic puzzles are an exciting activity designed to test a person’s ability to use information provided to them, and come up with a logical answer. Logic puzzles allow you to think outside the box, create new solutions, and can also help to solidify memories.
Logic puzzles are ideal for older people since they enable lateral thinking and can help to fire up neural pathways that have likely been dormant since retiring. You can find logic puzzle books online, or in most good book stores, but below is an example to get you started:
Here is an image of a bus.
Can you figure out which direction the bus is travelling? Hint: the bus is either traveling left or right. This is not a trick question. If you think you have the right answer or you can’t come up with a solution, click here to find out which way this bus is moving!
6. Jigsaw puzzles to stimulate the mind
For many, jigsaw puzzles may be the first brain training game that we play. However, as we age, we may forget how effective jigsaw puzzles are at stimulating the mind. Another benefit of puzzles is that they can help older people relax, by reducing blood pressure and slowing breathing rate. Some even see jigsaw puzzles as a kind of meditation - ideal for older people with busy minds.
7. Tasks to boost memory and attention for older people
Here are some games that target memory and attention – essential skills for older people which can easily diminish with lack of use:
1. Name two objects for every letter in your first name. Work up to five objects, trying to use different items each time.
2. Say the months of the year in alphabetical order.
3. Name six or more things you can wear on your feet beginning with “s”
4. Look around wherever you are and, within two minutes, try to find five red things that will fit in your pockets, and five blue objects that are too big to fit.
8. Sudoku for seniors
Sudoku is a brilliant brain game for people of all ages and abilities. Simply put, Sudoku is a logic game that involves problem solving and looking for number patterns. The skills developed with this game have real-world implications by helping older adults assess the repercussions of decisions that they are faced with every day. As Sudoku is a challenge, completing puzzles can also give a great sense of accomplishment that can be hard to achieve in other activities in later life.
9. Trivia games
There are an endless number of trivia topics that can be utilised for a trivia game, dependant on the group or individual with whom you are playing. Exciting topics include musicals, current affairs and history.
Keep scores if playing in teams or in a group in order to boost competitiveness and add more of a challenge. Questions can be called out or written down - dependant on the skills and preferences of those playing. Then you can check the answers to see how many were correct. Winners could even be given prizes. Trivia is a fantastic way of stimulating the minds of older people whilst also having a bit of a laugh.
10. Chess to boost planning skills in older people
Chess has been around for centuries, but it is often overlooked as a game that can boost brain health and mental wellbeing. Chess is all about strategy, planning ahead and thinking outside the box - simply put, it is a great activity for those of all ages.
Some people may avoid chess, thinking that you have to be a genius to play, but that is not the case: amazingly, after just a few months of playing, chess can even help to boost your IQ. You can also play chess online, if alone or in need of brushing up on skills. A final benefit, which is especially helpful for older people who struggle with concentration, is that it can help to increase focus.
11. Games for older adults living with dementia
Games that stimulate the brain can help to slow the progression of dementia. Here are a few of our favourite brain training games for elderly people with dementia:
Amazing Chase: a fun hand-held marble game that helps provide stimulation for individuals at early and later stages of dementia
Call to Mind: a board game specially designed to stimulate memories and encourage conversations for those living with dementia
Puzzles & Past Times: created by Unforgettable and Puzzler, this 140-page book includes puzzles and activities (memory games, nostalgia, crosswords and more) to stimulate mind, memories and conversations
Jumbo Slide-Slot Bingo Cards: these extra-large Bingo cards are dementia-friendly, making them perfect for all the family to enjoy together
12. Botanical identification game for older people
For all older people, getting out and about is a great booster of wellbeing, even if it is just out in the garden. Fresh air can stimulate the brain, and adding in a botanical identification element can help to really enhance the mental benefits of being outside.
13. Serving tray game for enhancing short term memory in older people
As we age, it can become harder to remember things. Often short-term memory is most affected by age, which can then impact day-to-day activities such as food shopping, house chores and remembering activities. It is therefore very important to test it out and challenge the brain every day.
A fun activity that can enhance short-term memory is “the tray game”. Find a serving tray and a selection of random items from around the house. Place the items on the tray and have a look at the items, before then covering them with a cloth. Then ask those who are playing to recall all of the items - see who can remember the most.
14. Read fiction books and retell the tale
Reading is an immersive activity that, in addition to boosting cognitive skills and enhancing lost vocabulary, can help reduce feelings of isolation in older adults. A great added extra to enhance the benefits of reading, is to ask the older person to retell the tale in a succinct way once they have finished the book. Not only does this increases the social aspect of the activity, it also ensures that memory skills are developed.
15. Exercise the mind with the shopping list game
Memory games not only help older people to improve memory, but they can also reduce loneliness. Challenging the mind with a cumulative shopping tale game is a fun activity that really enhances memory skills as well as social interaction.
Simply gather together a group of seniors and ask them to sit in a circle. The first person starts by saying: “I went to the supermarket and bought some chicken”. The next person repeats that line and adds an item of their own: “I went to the supermarket and bought some chicken and some rice”. This continues until it comes back to the first person, who then must say the whole list again. The game can be completed for numerous rounds, until no one is able to remember all of the items. Guaranteed fun for all involved.
16. Play video games to boost the minds of older people
Many may think video games are only for the young, but they can be a great activity for senior citizens too. Research suggests that 3D platform games such as Super Mario may be particularly good for older people since they require fast responses, forward planning and a memory of which keys to use.
Computer games also require that the player learns new skills, something which can help to ensure long-term cognitive health in older people and will also bring a sense of achievement.
17. Volunteering for the over-50s
There is no reason why volunteering should only be reserved for young people. No matter how old an individual, or how capable they are, there are volunteering activities for everyone – from reading with children, to caring for animals, and helping in charity shops. Not only does volunteering allow individuals to make a difference in the world – it also changes them in surprising ways!
In addition to feelings of wellbeing, volunteering can reduce social isolation, and allow new skills to be developed. A quick search online will highlight just how many volunteering opportunities there are for older people.
18. The card matching game
Forgetting what is in the fridge, or the reason why you went upstairs, are annoying moments of forgetfulness that we all suffer from. However, for an older person, these moments can become frequent and frustrating, making it hard to carry out day-to-day activities.
The card matching game is a great activity to increase memory skills in all ages. It can be played alone or with a group of friends. All that is needed is a pack of cards and a table. The cards are laid face down and then when a player takes their turn, they flip over two cards together. If the cards match, they keep the pair and continue their go, looking for more matches. If they are unsuccessful, the next player has the turn. The winner is the individual with the most correctly matched pairs.
19. Fun and functional party games for elderly people
We all love to party and celebrate, no matter what age we are. Some party games can become difficult with age, but there are many games that are both enjoyable and can boost skills required to live happily and healthily into older age.
Partners in Pen is an excellent crafty party game that only requires a pen and some paper. A group is split into pairs with person one having a pen and some paper, and the person two having a list, or bag of items. Person two then goes on to describe an object and person one must draw it. The aim of the game is for person one to guess what they are drawing before the image is complete. A great game for creative thinkers.
20. Stay sharp in older age with combined physical and mental training
For older adults who are still active, dancing can be a healthy activity that also challenges the brain thanks to having to learn new steps and routines. Dancing is also a therapeutic pastime that can reduce social isolation, increase relaxation and decrease blood pressure. There are loads of dance classes specially tailored to older adults, and even chair dancing classes suited to those who are unable to stand.
21. Heighten mental skills with a brain training app
You can download brain training apps straight to a mobile or tablet to enable older people to train their brain whenever and wherever they want. These apps are useful to improve visual-spatial skills, problem solving and concentration.
There are a lot of apps available, ranging from really simple word-connection games to more complex apps with more than 60 different games and activities. Many of the apps are free and easy to use. A couple of great options include: Fit Brains Trainer and NeuroNation, but a quick search in an app store will show how many apps are available.
22. Never too old to learn a new language
Our brain ages as we do, but it is possible to enhance brain health and reduce the impacts of aging by challenging it. Learning a new language is one of the best ways to do that. As well as language classes in community centres, there are also language classes online, and audio books available to loan from libraries.
Learning a language is best done with friends, making it a great activity for enhancing sociality in older people. Some may be put off by the challenge of a new language, but it doesn’t even matter if the older person isn’t able to learn swathes of vocabulary – learning just a few words will get the cogs turning and enhance mental health.
Keeping the mind active in older age is essential. As we have highlighted, there are many ways to do it, from online games and apps, to outdoor activities and dance.
For older people, brain training should be conducted as much as possible to get maximum benefits, but 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. So get active, challenge the mind and enjoy gaming!
“Brain Exercises and Dementia”, WebMD.
“Brain training improves memory and performance of everyday tasks in older people”, KCL Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.