Who said playing was just for kids? Play and collaborative activities can be fun at any age, and science shows that playing board games regularly could slow down cognitive decline and support mental well-being in older adults.
Many games are enjoyable for older adults with early dementia, but certain pastimes may be particularly beneficial for people experiencing memory loss. Here are five board and card games ideal for sharing with loved ones in a memory care community under the Bethesda Senior Living Communities umbrella.
Bingo is a classic tabletop game with straightforward rules. While the original version involves checking off numbers, there are plenty of fun alternatives available, spanning themes from ocean animals to musical instruments and popular films. You could even create your own bingo cards based on your loved one's favorite hobbies or topics — perfect for sparking meaningful conversations.
The beauty of bingo is that it's accessible and appealing to all age groups, making it a great intergenerational activity for get-togethers with grandkids. There's even scientific evidence of the benefits of playing bingo as an older adult. A 2019 paper determined that playing certain types of bingo regularly can help seniors with dementia maintain functional performance skills such as processing speed and memory.
Described by the creators as a "card game without rules," Hodie (ho-dee-ay) was designed for people with dementia and their companions. While a game with no clear rules or objectives may sound chaotic, its loose nature provides an ideal format for creative play without pressure. Players can decide how to play based on the abilities and preferences of the participants by matching, sorting or inventing ways to order the cards.
Each card features a beautiful photograph intended to encourage memories and conversation, and you can purchase the game in two themes: birds or classic cars. The strong visual focus may help seniors with dementia enjoy more complex and satisfying communication with loved ones. Furthermore, the collaborative format of the game encourages socialization, assisting seniors to develop improved self-esteem.
Familiar and comforting board games such as Snakes and Ladders may help reassure older adults with memory loss. Often, people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia find it easier to access memories from childhood or early adulthood than to remember more recent events. Therefore, nostalgic or retro activities, such as board games played in childhood, can help support their sense of identity, improve self-esteem and trigger memories to launch meaningful conversations and interactions.
Snakes and Ladders is an excellent option for some nostalgic fun in a memory care community. Most people are familiar with the rules and format, and the emphasis on luck removes pressure on seniors who struggle with games involving strategy. You can find various Snakes and Ladders sets to suit every player's skills and ability, from free Snakes and Ladders printables to large-format boards ideal for people with vision loss. Some companies also sell retro sets, allowing you to find games closely resembling those played during childhood.
Category Snap is similar to regular Snap but with one crucial difference: No two images are the same. Instead of matching identical pictures, players match associated images by grouping cards from the same category. For example, two foods can go together to form a pair. This set of Category Snap cards from Relish is suitable for playing snap, pairs and full house, allowing you to match the difficulty level to each player's unique abilities.
While Category Snap is fun for players of all ages, it provides cognitive stimulation and encourages users to play creatively. Cognitive creativity is known to help counter depression and isolation in people with dementia, but research also shows that creative challenges can help friends, family and caregivers enjoy better emotional health. Furthermore, creative categorization activities are ideal for helping young children develop their reasoning abilities, making Category Snap a great choice for intergenerational play.
Developed by people with dementia in collaboration with leading experts in senior cognition, All About Us helps older adults with memory loss and their loved ones explore important life experiences. The board takes players through the decades, encouraging them to reminisce about events, express their feelings and discuss hopes for the future in their memory care communities and beyond. The game is designed to be accessible and inclusive to people of all ability levels and features large print, bold colors and cards created with manual dexterity issues in mind.
A 2021 study examined the benefits of playing All About Us, also known as This Is Me, for people with mild to moderate dementia. The researchers found the game facilitated positive interactions, and players enjoyed learning more about themselves and the people around them. Participants also said the game helped them reach acceptance of their circumstances and gain a more hopeful perspective of their future.