Last week, a woman came into the store shopping for toys for Grandma. That's right. The kids were shopping for Grandma in a toy store. The woman said to me a bit shyly, "I bet you'll think I'm crazy, but could you help me pick some good games for my elderly mother who is showing signs of dementia?"
I didn't think she sounded crazy at all. Much research suggests that the brain works like a muscle: The more you exercise it, the stronger it stays. According to an article published by Dr. Ifay Chang, who has been studying the effects of play and brain development for over 20 years, playing thinking games and memory games may cut an elderly person's chance of developing dementia by half. "There...[is] ample evidence pointing to the fact that game playing is just [as] important to elderly people as to young kids. Personally, I am in favor of creating games for young kids and elderly people to play together, each derive benefits from the game playing" explains Chang in his follow-up. In short, playing thinking games is good medicine for us all.
Keeping this in mind, I showed this thoughtful customer a few games that would engage her mother both when she was alone and when the grandchildren came for a visit.
- 36 Cube: Think of this like a 3-D sudoku puzzle. The different colored cubes fit on different lengths of rods. The key is to get one of every color in each row and column with no repeats. This extremely difficult solitaire puzzle would be a great choice for the person who likes to be pushed and challenged.
- Hoppers: Remember the peg hopping game where the object is to leave only one peg on the board? This single-player game gives that a new twist. There are 40 challenge cards that tell you how to arrange the frogs and the object is to leave only the red frog standing. This game is nice because it gradually builds in difficulty. So a reluctant or struggling individual will gain some confidence in the early, easier challenges and be encouraged to keep going.
- Shut the Box: This simple dice game requires players to recall basic math facts and make decisions about what tiles to flip when to get the best score. This one can be played alone or with others, making it a nice one to play with the grandkids who need to practice memorizing their math facts. This pick is the least challenging of the ones mentioned here, but definitely aids in decision-making skills.
- Qwirkle: The object of this game it to complete rows that are comprised of either all the same shape or all the same color. Similar to sudoku, no row can have a repeat. So if the row is comprised of all the same shape, it can only have one shape of each color. Likewise, if a row is comprised of tiles all of the same color, it cannot have two of the same shape. The more tiles you can place on a single turn and the more directions you connect together, the bigger you score. Again, this game is great for kids to play along with the elderly. Both will be challenged and delighted by it.
For more ideas about caring for and interacting with a loved one with dementia, HelpGuide.org has a lot of great information.