Board Games and our Brains: How They Help Cognitive Health


For so many people, Games Night is a central part of their social calendar. Whether with family, friends or co-workers, games bring people together and help forge bonds, even online in the era of Zoom.

But many games can also serve a greater purpose – for older adults, board games can be a fun and effective way to maintain their cognitive health.

There are many tangible benefits of board games as it relates to cognitive health – games can help fire up the areas of the brain responsible for strategy, problem-solving and spatial recognition. By doing so, it can help hold off Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.

As this article notes, “…researchers found that those who played more games later in life had better cognitive function in areas including memory, thinking speed, problem solving, and general cognitive ability than those who didn’t engage in game playing. This research offers evidence that cognitive decline doesn’t have to be inevitable. The relationship between playing board games and sharper thinking and memory abilities adds to current knowledge about what people can do to protect their cognitive health.”

Playing games has also been shown to reduce stress and helps people form social connections.

Board Games For Older Adults

At Prestige there are a few games in particular we’ve found at being especially effective in helping our residents maintain cognitive health.

Qwirkle has a simple premise: build lines by matching tiles based on either color or shape, and then score points as you go. However, the variety of different tiles available opens up a wide swath of possibilities for how players proceed.

As noted in this overview of the game, “Qwirkle is the perfect game to hone player’s tactical maneuvers, strategic planning, and forward thinking…(it) develops and hones their spacial recognition, planning, and problem solving skills.”

Another game along those lines is Set, a card game that bills itself as “The Family Game of Visual Perception”. Players need to identify patterns and commonalities among a set of cards laid out in front of them, and quickly grab them before their competitors.

It’s useful for older adults, because as noted in the description of the game, “…it has a rule of logic, and because players must apply this rule to the spatial array of patterns all at once, they must use both left brain and right brain thought processes”.

Along with Qwirkle and Set, there are a number of other games perfect for aiding in cognitive health. Blokus is a strategy game where players have to place differently-shaped tiles on the board, with only corners touching, and try to have as few tiles remaining before there are no moves left to make.

Meanwhile, an old classic is Taboo, the game where players work in pairs to get their partner to guess a word or phrase without using obvious words as clues to help them answer.

Those are just a small sample of games that can be useful for older adults, while having fun at the same time.

The Social Impacts of Board Games

The scientific benefits on how board games benefit our neurons are impressive and vital, but there’s another aspect to board games that’s also important in our cognitive health: they’re an inherently social activity.

Most board games require at least one other participant, if not more, making them a great opportunity for older adults to enjoy socializing, which in itself is a vital component of cognitive health.

It may be time spent with friends and peers, during which you can also reminisce and enjoy the inside jokes and repartee that comes with long friendships. Maybe it’s with new friends where those bonds can form anew. Or maybe it’s with family – kids and grandkids gathered together around the table with everyone enjoying each other’s time, without a screen in sight.

Granted, things can sometimes go sideways if there are disagreements in Monopoly as to whether fines should be paid into the center of the board, then doled out to anyone lucky enough to land on Free Parking (Prestige’s unofficial stance: don’t play that way – it introduces too much luck into the game).

However, by and large board games are terrific ways of bringing people together for a fun time.

Cognitive Health at Prestige

At Prestige, we believe in promoting the overall wellness of our residents, with cognitive health a vital aspect of that mission. In addition to board games, we also have Mind Masters, a cognitive stimulation program designed to specifically activate the regions of the brain clinically proven to maintain and improve cognitive abilities.

For more information about Mind Masters and the other ways in which we care for the cognitive health of our residents, find a location near you and contact them to learn more.

If you’re considering senior living for yourself or a loved one, you can also book a tour where our team can go into more detail in the ways we keep our residents healthy, both physically and cognitively.