As you get older, it's normal to notice some minor changes in your
cognitive abilities. For instance, you may find as you reach your senior
years that it's a bit more difficult to sustain your attention, multitask,
find the right word, or recall information as quickly as you once did.
"Some changes in the ability to think are considered a normal part
of the aging process," says the UCSF Memory and Aging Center. "We
develop many thinking abilities that appear to peak around age 30 and,
on average, very subtly decline with age."
However, according to Harvard Health Publishing, there are six key waysto
help promote cognitive health. Their experts say that in addition to eating
plant-based foods, exercising, sleeping well, reducing stress levels,
and nurturing your social ties, you should also be able to boost your
cognitive ability by actively challenging your brain. In fact, by using
games that put your problem-solving skills to the test, you can help keep
your mind sharp well into your golden years. Read on to learn which games
are best for enhancing your cognitive health.
1. Word games
Word games are a great way to flex your problem-solving and vocabulary
skills as you age. However, there may be benefits to choosing pen and
paper word games over those you'll find online, says Vernon Williams,
MD, sports neurologist, pain management specialist, and founding director
of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe
Institute in Los Angeles.
"I'm less inclined to suggest most online and social media-based
gaming purportedly designed for 'brain-training' purposes. I say
this because these modalities can get expensive and potentially addicting
in a way that might have adverse brain health effects, which eventually
reduce the overall benefit," he tells Best Life.
While there's absolutely nothing wrong with completing the daily Wordle
challenge, try rounding out your routine with crossword puzzles, word
finders, and other word games, he suggests.
2. Language-learning games
Learning a new language is another great way to keep your mind sharp as
you get older. Language-based games can put those skills to the test with
time constraints, which can help build your brain's ability to process
and recall new information faster.
"No matter how old you are or whether you're healthy or currently
have a neurologic condition, science has proven that your brain loves
to learn," says Williams.
3. Board games and card games
Research reveals that playing board games—think chess, backgammon,
or Monopoly—can greatly enhance your cognitive abilities.
"Playing traditional board games has been shown to be related to a
neural reorganization of brain areas associated with attentional control,
working memory, and problem solving. Similarly, playing modern board games
also seems to improve cognitive and executive abilities," says a
2023 study published in the journal PLOS One.
Card games such as bridge, poker, rummy, and euchre are similarly beneficial
since they promote social connection, analytical reasoning, and short-term
memory. By integrating these games into your everyday routine, you can
help slow the changes to your cognitive ability.
Williams says that while many people turn to online games as a form of
"brain training," this misses "a fundamental truth about
brain health"—that one of the best things you can do to maintain
optimal cognition is to get your body moving.
"Dynamic activities, such as competitive sports or cardiovascular
exercise, are essential for optimal brain health across the lifespan,"
he tells Best Life.
That's why learning a new sport can be an ideal way to keep your mind
sharp, while also promoting your broader physical fitness. Whether you
choose the game of soccer, basketball, tennis, or pickleball, your brain
will be challenged to keep track of a new set of rules and put them into
action in real-time.
"Learning something new and challenging while regularly moving your
body is healthy fuel for your brain. More and more research today confirms
that these elements are also protective armor against cognitive dysfunction
and neurologic diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease later
in life," Williams says.
Whether you prefer jigsaw puzzles or sudoku, cryptograms or math puzzles,
these are a great way to improve your short-term memory, boost your processing
speed, and recognize patterns. Taken together, these benefits can help
build your brain's neuroplasticity, or its ability to reorganize itself
by forming new neural connections throughout life.
In fact, a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found
that adults over the age of 50 who did jigsaw puzzles saw a wide range
of cognitive benefits.
"Solving jigsaw puzzles strongly taps multiple visuospatial cognitive
processes including perception, constructional praxis, mental rotation,
speed, flexibility, working memory, reasoning, and episodic memory,"
the study authors wrote.
6. Escape the room
In recent years, "escape the room" games—which challenge
groups to solve a mystery, complete a task, or physically escape an enclosed
space—have become a popular pastime. Experts suggest that games
like this can be majorly beneficial for your brain if you do them often.
"There's increasing evidence demonstrating 'dual tasking'
(such as simultaneous participation in physical and cognitive training
activities), and progressively increasing a cognitive load with distractions
and the pressure of limited time can be of significant additional benefit,"
Additionally, studies have shown that maintaining strong social connections
can help build cognitive resilience as you age. By gathering a group of
friends and heading for one of these immersive problem-solving experiences,
you can enhance your cognition in more ways than one.