Psychologists from the University of Edinburgh have found playing board games can have a positive impact on the brain functioning of older adults. Their research study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, concluded that people aged 70 and over who play non-digital games, such as cards and board games, are more likely to obtain better scores in memory and other cognitive tests compared to those who do not.
If you’ve not always been a board game enthusiast, experts say it’s never too late to start playing to help your brain. They found that even beginning to play non-digital games in older adulthood, can help to maintain thinking skills. Just playing a board game for an hour can make a substantial difference to our brains, some previous studies have discovered.
The initial starting point for the University of Edinburgh researchers was to gain an idea as to whether games like chess, cards or crossword puzzles had a positive impact on the brain functioning of older people. They conducted an experiment to assess memory, problem solving, thinking speed and and general thinking ability with 1,091 people, all aged aged 70. All participants were born in 1936. The tests were repeated every three years until participants had reached the age of 79. In total, this longitudinal study took place over nine years. Participants were also asked how often they played board games at three year intervals (age 70, 73, 76 and 79).
Researchers had access to cognitive function assessments of all participants from when they were 11 years old, to provide further data during the analysis phase. As part of the statistical analysis, experts took into account possible potentially conflicting factors, such as early cognitive function, gender, activity levels, education, social class and health problems.
Board games to reduce cognitive impairment
Evidence was clear - participants who played board games from the age of 70 to 79 were more likely to maintain health cognitive functions, than those who did not.
One of the researchers, Drew Altschul, said the findings add to other evidence that suggests being more involved in activities that keep the brain active over the course of a lifetime may be associated with better thinking skills in adulthood. "For those in their 70s or older, a good message seems to be that playing non-digital games can be positive action in terms of reducing cognitive impairment," Altschul explained.
The experts also believe that evidence from this study is strong enough to actively advocate playing non-digital games as a means to avoid cognitive impairment.
"We and other researchers are focusing on the kinds of activities that can help keep people’s brains active in old age. In our sample, it appears that it's not just about a level of general intellect and social activity. There is something specific about these kind of games that have a small but detectable association with better cognitive ageing," says Ian Deary, co-author of the research paper.
Reference: Playing Analog Games Is Associated With Reduced Declines in Cognitive Function: A 68-Year Longitudinal Cohort Study Drew M Altschul, PhD, Ian J Deary, PhD. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, gbz149, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbz149 Published: 18 November 2019