Board games reduce cognitive decline

Teaching his grandson about chess

A slew of studies among the elderly points to the cognitive benefits of games, including warding-off cognitive decline as age progresses. Apparently, games are not just fun for the elderly, they also bring physical and mental benefits in old age.

Previous studies have shown that even a one-hour bout of video gaming can improve attention span and provide other cognitive benefits. From brain training apps that may prevent mild cognitive impairment to 3D video games that may reverse age-related cognitive decline, playing games on a computer appears to offer several health benefits.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom recently set out to investigate whether non-digital games, such as cards, board games, or crossword puzzles, also affect cognition in a positive manner

For their study, the research team examined 1,091 participants who were born in 1936 and whose data they accessed from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 — a study that evaluated the mental and cognitive capacities of its participants over a long period.

Researchers first assessed the participants’ cognitive function when they were 11 years old, and then later on at ages 70, 73, 76, and 79 using 14 standardized cognitive tests. As part of the new study, the scientists asked the participants how often they played board games, cards, chess, bingo, or crosswords at ages 70 and 76.

After accounting for possible confounding factors, such as early-life cognitive function, education, social class, sex, activity levels, and health issues, the study analysis found that people who played more games in their 70s were more likely to maintain healthy cognitive function in their older years.

Specifically, those who reported playing more analog games in their 70s experienced less relative cognitive decline from the age of 11 until 70, and less cognitive decline between 70 and 79. These latest findings add to evidence that being more engaged in activities during the life course might be associated with better thinking skills in later life.

The research team also added that in future they could try and pinpoint which games were more potent than others in reducing cognitive decline among the elderly.