I have a lot of patients who show up in my office because they’re concerned about their memory. And as I’m sure you’ve probably noticed, I try my hardest to offer any and all solutions that could possibly help them.
And in addition to lifestyle interventions (like adopting a healthy, balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity), one of my most common recommendations is for patients to give their brains a “workout” with board games, crossword puzzles, and the like. As a doctor, it always seemed intuitive that routinely engaging in these types of activities would help keep your brain sharp.
And now, I’m pleased to report that it’s officially a matter of scientific fact…
Benefits across the board
Results from a large recent study show that playing more board games (also known as “analog games”—yes, we are all getting old) seems to ward off cognitive decline and actively improve memory in retirement.
Seeing as how a lot of modern “brain training” research is based on computers, this latest finding was a refreshing change of pace.
Researchers asked subjects how often they played games—like cards, chess, or bingo—at age 70. Then, at age 76, they looked for increases in frequency of game play.
At the age of 70, a third of the subjects said they played games every day, or nearly every day, while 20 percent reported playing games once a year or less. Everyone else fell somewhere in the middle.
Ultimately, results linked game play with higher cognitive function at 70 years old. And the more game playing, the better—subjects who played more frequently showed a clear advantage over those who played less frequently.
But do you want to hear one of the most interesting parts of this study? The subjects in this train had first received cognitive testing at age 11—yes, I said 11.
And the researchers found that women who were avid game players at 70, but who had lower cognitive function at 11, gained nearly 1.5 IQ points for every step up in gaming frequency.
Memory and processing payoffs
These results held, even after controlling for a host of other variables. In fact, any way researchers sliced it, more game play was linked with a sharper mind at age 70.
Even though all subjects suffered some degree of cognitive decline past the age of 70, this decline was markedly more severe in participants who played games less frequently.
Playing more games, on the other hand, had the opposite effect—and it was particularly prominent when it came to memory and processing speed.
From age 70 to 79, the avid game players retained an extra 1.02 IQ points in general cognitive function—and a whopping 3.06 points in memory—for every increment increase in game play.
But even if the payoff was only modest, it’s still a recommendation I’m thrilled to make. Board games are a cheap way to boost your memory while having fun and spending quality time with the people you love. And they certainly can’t hurt you… unless, of course, you happen to be a sore loser.
“Board Games a Major Win for the Brain.” Medscape Medical News, 12/11/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/922462)