Alzheimer's games in all flavors

Games for people with Alzheimer's can be low-tech, high-tech, or anything in between. Every care community in the world probably has a Bingo game – and that's about as low tech as you can get – yet Bingo has been shown to have positive effects when played by Alzheimer's and other dementia patients.

One study reported in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementia found that playing Bingo provides mental stimulation that is highly therapeutic to people with cognitive disorders. Individuals participating in the study performed significantly better on measures of cognition. Staff members reported increases in alertness and in awareness in the test subjects for hours after testing.

Bingo has other advantages as a game for dementia patients. It comes not only in the familiar "B-6, N-23" version, but in a number of alternatives that are stimulating on different levels and for different abilities. Players can identify anything from animals to items of food, to body parts. This allows for the game to be played, in one version or another, by patients at different stages of the disease, and to stimulate memories, thought process, or other cognitive abilities.

And it's not just a game for large groups. Games for Alzheimer's should be played for stimulation, not for competition, and can be enjoyed by a group of two or three. Or even one (with a caregiver). Whenever possible, have children play with the older adults. Both age groups enjoy this.

At the other extreme...

a computer based game called Smartbrain was shown to improve cognition in Alzheimer's patients in an adult day care facility in Spain. As reported in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, Smartbrain, improved cognition in a group of elderly people diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Smartbrain provides stimulation to cognitive facilities like attention and memory.

It seems that even the diseased brain retains the ability to make new neurological connections. Since a computer game can be programmed to work on the needs and at the level of the person playing it, it is this technology that holds the most promise in this field.

The researchers found that, when used in addition to the facilities regular program, the game "greatly augmented the traditional psychomotor stimulation...." When both treatments were used together the cognitive benefit was extended to 24 weeks."

Posit Science makes a product similar to the Smartbrain used in the study. Called Brain Fitness, it is being used successfully by several residential facilities to keep brains younger. And Nintendo has gotten into the game with a product called Brain Age. Though originally intended to improve the working of the healthy brain, these products are proving to be effective therapy for people with dementia.

Like everything computer, electronic games will not totally replace more conventional ones, but should be considered as an important addition to the patients activity program whenever possible.

Selecting a game

Games for people with dementia should work on several levels. A board game with a colorful playing surface and objects that can be handled (cards, dice, etc.) is better than a game that does not contain these features; the more sensory stimulation the better (but be careful with objects that are small enough to be placed in the mouth). Many games involve a physical component, like the one Bernice is playing at the top of this page. Exercise is another component to consider in selecting a game.

And be sure to allow the patient to have a say in the selection process. A game that she played with her children when they were growing up, or one the she herself played as a child will likely hold a special attraction. That familiarity with the activity will serve to stimulate memories.

For Bernice

The QwirkleTM game was chosen for Bernice partly because the wooden tiles are an easy size for her to handle, and because she loves colors and shapes.

Bernice matching Quirkle pieces.

QwirkleTM is an ideal game for people with Alzheimer's disease. It requires that the patient distinguish and match colors and shapes, so it is beneficial at a cognitive level. The colors and shapes, set against the black background of the tiles are visually stimulating. Manipulating the pieces is exercise for the hands and arms, and when played with someone else it is a social activity.

QwirkleTM is played like dominoes. Instead of matching dots to dots, players match either shapes or colors. People in early and middle stages of Alzheimer's could play the game by its rules. Bernice is probably approaching the later stage, and was told that she could arrange the tiles in any way she wanted.

Bernice and her Quirkle design.

Because of her love of design, she would match some by color and others by shape, like the game rules. She really concentrated on her design, working on it for over 30 minutes. She was obviously quite pleased with herself and her final product. Except for a few tiles, they are matched either by shape or by color; but even her mis-matches are not mistakes. Remember, all activities should be "no-fail."

Given how well she did matching colors and shapes on her own, we might try to get up a game at her facility one of these days soon.




Bernice loves this game, and so does Holly. It can be played in many ways and by people at different stages of Alzheimer's. People in early stages can play by the rules, as a game of strategy. Later it can be used for color and pattern matching.

Puzzles to Remember

Goldfinch puzzle for people with Alzheimer's disease


Max Wallack is a young man who knows the importance of games and activities for people with Alzheimer's disease. As a boy he helped care for his great grandmother who had Alzheimer's disease. He noticed that when she was doing a puzzle or other activity that required her to use her brain, she seemed happier and calmer. Max started soliciting donations of puzzles and delivering them to Alzheimer's facilities near where he lived. Max founded, a charity organization that now distributes puzzles all over the country. That's when Max was twelve.

At one point, Max contacted Springbok Puzzles with his notion that people with Alzheimer's disease can benefit from jigsaw puzzles. As a result, Springbok now makes a line of 36 piece puzzles specifically for people with cognitive disorders. This line is appropriately called, Puzzles to Remember, and are available in our store.

Shake Loose a Memory

Shake Loose a Memory - remeniscence games for people with Alzheimer's disease


Five "Shake Loose..." games are not only fun to play but can be a part of a comprehensive reminscence therapy program. Developed by specialists in the field of gerontology and recreation, each easy to play game contains questions that will unlock memories as it provides hours of fun and social interaction.

In Brief

One study shows that playing Bingo specifically provides mental stimulation that is highly theraputic. Patients participating in the study performed significantly better on measures of cognition. Staff members reported increases in alertness and in awareness for hours after testing.