7 Fun Games That Help Boost Your Memory, Experts Say
Flex your memory muscles with these expert-approved games.
As you get older, it's important to prioritize your cognitive health. You can do this by leading a healthy lifestyle that includes eating well, exercising, maintaining social ties, reducing stress, and getting adequate sleep. However, experts say there's also another, more targeted way to boost your memory: playing games that exercise the parts of your brain that encode, store, and retrieve information.
"There are different types of memory, such as short-term memory, working memory, long-term memory, and episodic memory. Each type of memory relies on different brain regions and networks, such as the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, the parietal cortex, and the temporal cortex," explains Gurneet Singh Sawney, MCh, MS, a Mumbai-based neurosurgeon and spine surgeon and medical expert for Clinic Spots.
Sawney says that the best games for improving memory are those that challenge and stimulate these brain regions and networks, as well as enhance attention, concentration, and mental flexibility. Wondering which fun games can help prevent cognitive decline? Read on for seven great game night ideas that will help boost your memory.
Anyone who knows the rules can play a game of chess, but the players who have memorized moves and countermoves are more likely to finish the game in victory. Sawney says that practicing the game can help boost your memory and give you a mental workout.
"Chess is a game of strategy and logic that involves planning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Chess can improve working memory, as it requires you to keep track of multiple pieces and moves in your mind," he says. "Chess can also enhance spatial memory, as it involves visualizing the board and the possible outcomes."
Checkers and Chinese checkers are both fun and accessible games that can help boost memory at any age. In fact, a 2016 study published in the journal Brain Imaging Behavior found that playing handful of games, including checkers, was associated with enhanced cognitive function.
"The participants underwent an extensive battery of neuropsychological tests that spanned conventional cognitive domains of memory, attention, executive function, language, and visuospatial ability," the study authors wrote.
Regression models revealed significant associations between these games and immediate memory, verbal learning memory, and recall speed and flexibility.
Diane Carbo, RN, a dementia care specialist with Caregiver Relief, says she encourages her clients to play checkers as part of a dementia prevention program. She says that with its easy rules, checkers can also help promote social connections, which is important for maintaining cognitive health.
"It's great for interaction with others, even grandkids," she adds.
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Even people who are experiencing normal, age-related memory changes may sometimes find that a word is just at the tip of their tongue, yet still out of reach.
Carbo says that Scrabble is a great game for boosting memory and maintaining verbal fluency. Because the game is won by playing words that feature high-point letters, players are rewarded for remembering a wide range of words of this nature.
The dementia specialist says that even those with more severe memory loss may still benefit from playing Scrabble, with one slight modification: Carbo encourages using extra tiles to make words more easily.
Matching card games may be popular for the toddler set, but don't let that turn you off—there are also several geared toward older audiences that are explicitly made to boost memory.
"Any matching card game is great," says Carbo. She recommends playing different types, including those that match pictures to other pictures, and those that match pictures to words.
Sawney recommends the game Concentration in particular.
"Concentration is a card game that involves matching pairs of cards with the same image or value. Concentration can improve both visual and auditory memory, as it requires you to remember the location and sound of each card," he tells Best Life. "Concentration can also enhance attention span and focus."
Nancy Mitchell, RN, a geriatric nurse and contributing writer for Assisted Living, says that language-based games are excellent for boosting memory because they challenge new parts of the brain, and promote neuroplasticity. In particular, she recommends games that utilize translation flashcards.
"These flashcards contain a word or phrase in another language that the person may either be learning or might already know. They then have to translate the term to English, or their current tongue, to earn points," Mitchell explains. "This works because language learning and recall occurs in the hippocampus—the same part of the brain largely affected by Alzheimer's disease and similar cognitive conditions. Continuous use of this segment of the nervous system helps maintain nerve communication pathways and promotes cell health in that area."
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Sawney says that engaging your brain with a wide range of puzzle types can also significantly boost your memory. In particular, he recommends crossword puzzles, which he calls "one of the most classic brain training games."
"These games can help test your vocabulary skills and draw on knowledge from history, science, and popular culture. Crossword puzzles can improve both verbal and episodic memory, as they require you to recall words and facts from your long-term memory storage," he notes.
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According to the neurological expert, there's another, lesser known puzzle type that can help boost your memory: Rebus puzzles.
"Rebus puzzles are word puzzles that use pictures, symbols, or letters to represent words or phrases. For example, H + (EAR) = HEAR," Sawney explains. "Rebus puzzles can improve both verbal and visual memory, as they require you to associate words with images and sounds. Rebus puzzles can also enhance mental flexibility, as they challenge you to think creatively and laterally."