Games to Engage the Minds of Alzheimer's Elders

Editor's Note: This article, written by Jill Gilbert, originally appeared as "Games to Engage the Mind" in McKnight's Long Term Care News November 2008 edition.

A 2007 study in the journal Neuroepidemiology estimates that 3.8 million people in the United States have dementia. The progressive decline in cognitive and physical abilities among this population makes it increasingly difficult for both family members and nursing home caregivers to engage with them.

No one understands this better than Karen Miller, whose mother struggled after suffering a massive stroke and developing Alzheimer's. A lifelong lover of puzzles, Miller's mother could no longer handle the tiny pieces. She took up cards until her manual dexterity deteriorated to the point where she could only work on children's painting books.


Searching for solutions

After her mother's passing, Miller became dedicated to helping people like her mother find activities that were both easy to do and engaging. She began interviewing nursing home activity directors. All the requests were remarkably similar: They needed enjoyable, age-appropriate activities that could be completed in a single session, and that preferably had a storytelling theme.

Miller went to work designing a prototype. The puzzles are lap-sized, with six large pieces, making them easy to handle. Enlarged pictures and a matte finish accommodate visual deficits and reduce glare. The images come from Norman Rockwell's famous Saturday Evening Post cover art. Miller says that many residents she's worked with remember the images, and that even the date on the cover sometimes can jog memories.

Using the same images, Miller also began designing playing cards, eventually developing three games. Each is suited to a different stage of memory loss. Residents with shaky hands can easily handle the oversized cards, and the rules are simple: match images face up.

All of these activities boost concentration and hand-eye coordination, draw on memory, and require the use of problem-solving skills. Perhaps best of all, these simple activities restore precious memories to the elderly, and allow caregivers and family members to create new memories.


over 2 years ago, said...

Where can I purchase these puzzles and games?


over 2 years ago, said...

You put these things on here then do not give location where they can be obtained?? Ridicules!!


over 2 years ago, said...

Can you link us to a source for purchasing or having puzzles made?


almost 3 years ago, said...

Hello, Thank you for your question. Here is an additional resource that list activities and website where the games may be purchased: http://www.caring.com/articles/senior-activity-guide-activity-directors-tips-elderly-activities. Hope this helps!


almost 3 years ago, said...

Where can one get these games and puzzles? I would like to purchase


almost 3 years ago, said...

Yes, Where can I find these products for my mother who once was as avid reader, stayed up all night working on puzzles and loved math.


almost 3 years ago, said...

some people do not enjoy doing puzzles or playing cards. What other games or special products may stimulate the mind?


about 3 years ago, said...

Thank you, the ideas may help my other who is far into her dementia and little or no eye sight. I am sometimes able to engage her with crossword puzzles by asking her a question and prompting the answer. I am hoping to find a book of very simple crosswords. Thank you always for your suggestions


about 3 years ago, said...

now, where can I purchase these cards?


over 3 years ago, said...

lARGE SIZED PUZZLE PIECES AND CARDS GREAT iDEA. aRE THESE NOW ON THE MARKET FOR ME TO BUY?


over 3 years ago, said...

My Mother also has Macular Degeneration. I keep trying to think of things that will occupy her hours or minutes. Do have any ideas? She folds wash cloths and hand towels. She also gets dizzy so she can no longer stand to dry dishes (while I stand next to her) and she is now getting very confused about the dish towel (is it for drying my hands) at times. Thank you for your time reading my concerns.


about 4 years ago, said...

Where can I get these puzzles and cards?


over 4 years ago, said...

You could probably make a copy of a photo and glue it to a thin piece of smooth wood. Then use a few coats of clear varnish and when thoroughly dried, use a scroll saw to cut into several pieces. Sometimes we play Memory which can be difficult at times. Bananagrams can be fun and used to even make small words such as: and, to, from, for, it and so on....just keeping the mind going. We do crosswords that are easy and do them together. We have her fill in the spaces when she can or we fill them in and work with her to get answers to the definition. Like if the definition is, "used for nails", it could be for fingernails or nailing something together. We might say, "What is it we use to color nails?", Isn't it a hammer we use to pound nails?" If she doesn't get it fairly quick or if it's a bit difficult, we will say the answer in a way such as, "oooohhhh, I know what it is"... and say it while writing it in. We also do word finds and play Bingo with not a huge amount of numbers on the cards. War is a good game, too, but we leave the face cards out and just use 2 - 10. Just the socialization/conversation alone helps her mind stay a little active. We're just trying to keep her mind stimulated which seems to help.


over 4 years ago, said...

I grow weary and am not influenced when people write self-help books based on their own personal experience.


over 4 years ago, said...

Great idea, I'm going to make cards of his 7 great-grand-children with their names on the cards and have him match them. He says he can't remember their names and faces, so I think this will help.


over 4 years ago, said...

Listing resources of places to get the games and/or similar ones.


over 4 years ago, said...

Yes, are these games available somewhere?


over 4 years ago, said...

How can I get my hand on the cards and puzzles? These sound great!


over 4 years ago, said...

Where can we buy these?


over 4 years ago, said...

I'd love to know where to purchase such puzzles and card games.


over 4 years ago, said...

The idea of coming up with games that would be mutually enjoyable for the person with Alzheimers as well as the caregivers.