While the jury is still out on whether traditional brain games or even online versions truly make an impact on improving cognitive decline in seniors, one thing the medical community can agree on are the fringe benefits of engaging in more complex brain games involving multiple senses and different kinds of physical movement.

Besides combatting loneliness and keeping physically active, research has shown that when games combine movement, raise the heart rate and are mentally stimulating, it creates a sort of health Ďcocktailí that can lead to improved cognitive performance. Itís multi-sensory activities that can activate things like neurogenesis (creating new neurons), angiogenesis (creating new blood vessels) or synaptogenesis (creating new synapses).

This is not to say that activities such as reading, playing cards, chess or doing crossword puzzles arenít good for brain health; rather that engaging in brain games that combine multiple senses can do more for brain health overall. Research from the University of South Florida suggests that even a non-aerobic activity combined with social interaction, such as group Tai Chi, may reduce the risk of dementia and can lead to increases in brain volume as well as improvements on psychological tests of memory and thinking.

Traditional Brain Games Vs. Combined Movement & Play
While itís widely accepted that seniors who engage in brain-activating activities such as card games, crossword puzzles, board games, jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, chess or reading are doing their brain health some good, what is often missing in these activities is physical movement and conversation, two skills that are often in decline as one ages. According to David Norris, an occupational therapist and founder of Memory Health Made Easy, the best games are ones that incorporate a variety of skill sets utilizing language, memory, creative thinking, problem-solving and physical movements.

In a recent blog post on the subject of brain games for seniors and adults, Norris suggests playing well-known games such as ďThe Floor is LavaĒ or ďJengaĒ, but with a twist! Norris says you can dial up or down the level of difficulty by changing a parameter such as playing Jenga while standing on one leg. Have a dance party around certain markers placed on the floor, indicating which areas are ďlavaĒ. Play a word memory game while having to complete a physical moment at the same time. Norris says even jigsaw puzzles can be turned into a problem-solving game if players are in teams of two and need to negotiate with opponents for the pieces needed to complete their designated section of the puzzle. First team to complete their section of the puzzle wins the game!

Norris says itís never too early to play brain games, so getting creative during social time amongst peers or visits with grandchildren is a great place to start incorporating brain-healthy activities into daily life. According to a 2013 CBC News report, mild cognitive impairment affects 10-20 per cent of Canadians over the age of 70, and dementia will affect over 1 million seniors over the next 25 years. If you have concerns for your own brain health or that of a loved one, always seek out professional medical advice from your health care providers.