A lot of ‘brain game’ apps have become available in recent years, promising to help improve memory and stave off dementia. Despite the hype however, there is no sufficient evidence to support these claims. Nonetheless, ‘brain games’ are still a great way to provide mental stimulation and pass the time, as well as being a fun activity in their own right. The key is variety, and doing different games and mentally challenging activities to keep the mind stimulated – both online and in the company of others.
Ten favourite brain games for an elderly relative
Learn a language
A great way to challenge memory and concentration skills – as well as a fascinating learning experience – is to start to learn a new language. You could encourage your relative to learn a language of their favourite holiday destination or from a film or novel they have enjoyed. Learning can be through books or there are apps for a smartphone or tablet, or online training on a specialist website. Products such as Duolingo have made learning a new language fun and you’re presented with just a few new words and phrases every day with plenty of encouragement.
- Try Duolingo for free on duolingo.com or download the app to your phone
Solving Sudoku puzzles is a good way of testing your mental and logical thinking – it’s particularly good as it challenges parts of the brain many of us don’t use everyday. It’s quick and easy to get started and there’s a very pleasing sense of achievement as you complete the puzzle – though watch out for the fiendish level puzzles! You can find the puzzles in newspapers (almost every daily newspaper has a Sudoku along with a crossword), in special Sudoku puzzle book collections, or you can print off puzzles for free from websites.
- Free in most newspapers or online at sudoku.com
If your relative is a crossword fan, then they’re probably already tackling their daily puzzle set by their favourite crossword compiler. If new to crosswords, there are quick crosswords and cryptic crosswords. Quick puzzles are normally a set of questions and the answers fit together on the grid. Cryptic crosswords are normally much more complex as the clue hints at how the solution is constructed and needs experience and an almost forensic approach. Both are good for challenging your memory and logical thinking.
- Free in most newspapers and on their websites such as The Guardian crosswords
We’ve separated word puzzles from crosswords as they are really quite different – even if both involve words. Popular word puzzles include word search, hangman, Boggle, and word construction. These puzzles are great for testing your vocabulary and challenging your memory.
- Word search – in many newspapers or in books at your newsagent or bookshop or online at TheWordSearch.com website
- Boggle – online at various sites including Wordshake.com or as a real game from toy shops and Amazon.
- Hangman – just needs a pen and paper or play against the computer online at TheWordSearch.com
An online phenomenon developed over the Covid-19 lockdown, Wordle is now a firm favourite for many millions of users. Its simple concept is you have to work out the five letter word of the day in six attempts. Great for challenging your memory and logical thinking.
- Play Wordle on the New York Times website
Brain-training phone apps
There are hundreds of apps designed for elderly users to help improve concentration, problem solving, memory, logic and special awareness. These run on a smartphone or tablet and can be downloaded from the Apple or Google app store.
Brain-training online games
If your relative has a computer rather than a phone or tablet, there’s a huge range of online games available for older users that challenge memory, logic, and word games. Many offer a multi-user option allowing friends to play together over the internet.
Rather like cryptic crosswords, chess players appreciate the strategy and logic that’s required to play well. You can play on your smartphone, computer, online or with a board and wooden pieces. Best of all, it’s a game where you constantly learn and improve. It’s not a solitary game and the sociable element is a big part of real or online games against your friends.
- Play chess online for free at chess.com
- Play with an app such as the free Chess app for Apple iPhones
Simple, easy to understand but engrossing and addictive for many lovers of jigsaws. Unlike many of the other puzzles here, a jigsaw can take days to solve, involves movement and spatial awareness, and can provide a calming, relaxing pastime.
- From your favourite games retailer (and many bookshops)
Solitaire and card games
With a pack of cards you can play games with friends around you or play games on your own – with the classic solitaire game the best-known. No pack of cards? If you have a computer, smartphone or tablet, then there are versions available for free to download as an app or play online. Helps with concentration and memory skills.
- Play solitaire online for free at WorldofSolitaire.com