SENIOR LOOKOUT: Playing games can benefit your brain | News

Prior to the shut-down in 2020, I was part of a group who enjoy playing board games. The gaming sessions were fun and challenging. I met new people and learned new games. Sometimes I won, many times I lost. Winning and losing weren’t so important to me. I had a lot of fun every time I played. When everything closed down in March 2020, we found online board game websites, where developers have converted games to an electronic version. For the past two years, we have been playing many of our favorite games online, talking over Facetime apps or the phone while we’re playing. As a person living alone and working at home for 18 months, this helped significantly to decrease my feelings of isolation and loneliness.

As we age, we need to continue challenging our brains on a regular basis. I have seen recommendations that we should plan at least one hour a day to do something that challenges our brain. This could be learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, or playing a game that requires us to think in order to win. Games such as Scrabble are good because they help us build and/or retain our vocabulary. Games such as Yahtzee or Suduku help us maintain our ability to use numbers. Both types of game are considered cognitive exercises. Studies have found that people who regularly participate in cognitive exercises are less likely to develop dementia.

Another benefit of playing board games is the social interaction that we enjoy during the game. Whether you are playing with family and friends or with a new group of people that you met five minutes ago, you will interact with them and (hopefully) enjoy their company. With isolation issues becoming a serious health concern for our elder community, getting together over a game of Monopoly can help ease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

I was surprised to learn that more seniors are starting to play video games and that there are significant benefits to this trend.

Researchers from the University of Chicago found that seniors who play computer games can have better balance than those who don’t. At the study’s conclusion, video game players were able to stand from a seated position and walk faster than non-players.

Despite what our mothers told us when we were kids, watching a video monitor may actually improve a person’s vision. An Ontario study showed that older adults with cataracts may improve their vision when they play fast-paced games that cause rapid eye movement and require lots of attention. They also found that quick games can also cause an increase in adrenaline and dopamine, which is healthy for the brain.

A study from East Carolina University discovered that video games may help lessen depression and anxiety. In addition, video games can lessen stress and help a person relax.

A study in Montreal split healthy adults aged 55 to 75 into three test groups. The first group was asked to play video games for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. The second group was given piano lessons at the same frequency as the game players. The third group was not given a special task to do. After six months, the video game players had increases of gray matter in several areas of their brains and improvement in their short-term memory. The piano-playing group saw increases in their gray matter, but not as significant as the game players. The group that did not have a special task were all found to have some level of atrophy in their brain compared to six months earlier.

Game playing can be fun and it can be healthy.

Two websites that offer online board games are www.boardgamearena.com and www.yucata.de. Both sites offer free and paid memberships and the ability to play dozens of games with your friends or with other players on the sites.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

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