During the childhood years, our cognitive abilities start to develop and we keep developing them until we are in our 30s and these stay with us for about 20 years and decrease slowly after the age of 50. As we have talked about in our recent post, seniors might find it hard to perform simple physical activities like closing their bras, so imagine what happens to the mind.
Our cognitive abilities are closely related to our mental health. Being able to grasp concepts and understand abstract ideas are abilities closely related to the way we interact with the world. Due to the decrease of cognitive abilities as well as physical ones, seniors start to isolate themselves and that might be detrimental to their mental health.
In this article, we are going to tell you how memory games can improve our cognitive health and mental health as we are getting older. They can improve and develop the neural networks inside our brains and help us keep our life on track when it comes to human and social interaction.
Understanding how the brain works
It is not hard to understand simple scientific explanations about how the brain works and it is essential to know what we can do to improve these aspects. However, most people think that understanding the brain is more difficult than it actually is. That’s why we are going to explain it to you.
Our brain is made of neurons, which are cells that can communicate with each other and with other cells in the body. This is why they keep us healthy and have control over the way that the body functions. These cells work in networks that are similar to pathways in a field.
If you, for example, know that to get to your friend’s house you have to take a certain road, every time you go there you reinforce that pathway. Neural networks work in the same way. If you know that after you have finished washing the dishes you have to turn off the water tap, your brain will reinforce the network in the brain that allows you to remember that.
However, as we age, these networks might lose their ability to keep themselves strong and our brain is not that eager to make new networks. This is why it is essential to keep it in shape and stimulate it to do so to keep ourselves in wonderful mental and physical health.
What memory games to play to enhance our brain’s health?
We can improve our brain by promoting the formation of new neural networks in the brain that keep it in good shape by constantly making it change and grow. This is important even when we are young, but as we grow older it becomes essential if you want to stay healthy and happy even in your 90s.
Crossword puzzles can be really relaxing. You can always sit in your favorite armchair enjoying a cup of tea and engaging your mind in solving crossword puzzles. But besides the relaxation it provides, the action of solving crossword puzzles keeps your brain healthy. But how does it do that?
Well, first of all, it engages both parts of your brain, the left hemisphere as well as the right. This is really important because using both brain hemispheres has been proven to increase your concentration and increase brain power.
The left hemisphere of your brain is responsible for logic, analysis, language, ideas, math, and planning. It is also used for the right motor skills and rational thought. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is responsible for creativity, intuition, feelings, and imagination.
Therefore, using both hemispheres of the brain at the same time helps seniors improve their judgment abilities and improve their decision-making abilities. Crosswords also help seniors develop spatial and visual insight because after we have understood the puzzle, we have to make a visual representation of it and also a spatial one.
Even though physical exercise is really important when it comes to keeping a healthy brain as a senior, mental training is also really important and sudoku is one of the games that is most effective when it comes to developing and increasing the strength of the neural networks in the brains of elderly people.
There are studies that have concluded that memory games can reduce the chances of developing memory-related conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sudoku involves problem-solving and this is an aspect of our lives that often becomes biased by our jobs. As we go through life pursuing a career that we are passionate about, our focus stays on solving the specific problems that our careers bring to our attention and we enter a sort of loop.
This loop makes us solve these types of problems easier, but we don’t use our brains to solve other types of problems because we are too focused on the ones that are most present in our lives, leaving no room for the development of our problem-solving skills in other domains.
When we retire, we stop solving problems that we had to solve every day related to our jobs and we lack the ability to solve other types of problems. This is a skill that has to be developed and sudoku is really effective in helping us do that.
Chess is a great game when it comes to stress relief. This might seem counterintuitive at first because it requires a lot of thinking, concentration, anticipating your opponent’s moves and so on. However, concentration is exactly the aspect of it that makes it so beneficial for stress relief.
Neuroscience tells us that there is a state of our brains and thinking called ‘the default mode’. Whenever we are not focusing on doing something, physically or intellectually, we enter the default mode. This state allows us to think about everything that might make us worry.
While playing chess, you lose yourself in the game. This requires you to access your memory because you have to make a strategy and remember it. Also, you have to readapt it according to the moves that your opponent makes and you have to also anticipate what they will be doing next. You also make a map of the game, using your spatial imagination.
Chess also gives you a sense of connection with other people, it is a social experience that can lower stress levels. Feeling connected to someone makes your brain produce oxytocin, which is a chemical that makes you feel good and reduces stress levels.
The card matching game
As we grow older, our recognition skills are in good condition, but our recalling skills can deteriorate. This is why the card matching game is a great way to improve our recalling skills. Actually, it uses both of these skills and improves our brains on both levels.
This activity involves recalling a certain card but also being able to compare two visual images. This means that it uses both brain hemispheres at the same time and gives us a state of relaxation, exercising the brain at the same time. Studies have shown this also happens during meditation and puts us in a so-called ‘alpha waves state’.
This particular aspect of playing card matching games is really healthy for seniors’ brains especially because it will reduce the risk of developing memory problems like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The bottom line
As we grow old, our brain functions start to deteriorate and we might be surprised to find out that we can become confused or we might find it difficult to make simple decisions or to evaluate situations at their true value. Also, our mental state can deteriorate because we realize that we are not able to think the way we did when we were younger.
This is why engaging in memory games is so important. Firstly because they allow us to concentrate and relieve stress. Secondly, because they will create new neural networks inside our brains which keeps our brain functions active for a longer period of time.
Furthermore, engaging in playing memory games for longer helps us use both hemispheres of our brain for a longer period of time, similar to meditation, and will help improve our mental health and overall well being.