Our Stay Sharp Seniors (S3) initiative
Dementia, including that caused by Alzheimer's disease, has become one of the most important (affecting 45 million people) and costly (US$600 billion per year) health problems in our aging world. Yet, we are still far from finding a cure. Fortunately, several recent studies have found a connection between playing board games and preventing dementia. This quote from a very recent research article sums it up nicely:
"Playing board games is one of the most stimulating leisure activities for elderly people, even at an advanced age; it has specific advantages compared to other games or activities. Playing board games is a recreational activity that promotes exposure to novelty, taking initiatives, planning, adaptation to winning or losing and brings immediate pleasure to participants. In addition, playing games is an activity that can be undertaken with family members or friends and even with strangers, and it promotes social interaction and exchange with different generations. Furthermore, it is an inexpensive leisure activity that involves a wide range of tasks from simple ones as in bingo to complex ones as in bridge, and such games can be adapted to the level of the players. Finally, elderly people with a physical disability, mild hearing or visual impairment can continue to participate in this stimulating leisure activity, irrespective of the season or the weather. Other stimulating leisure activities like reading, travelling, gardening, doing odd jobs or playing sports do not offer the same advantages and ease of practice. Thus, playing board games could be a particularly relevant way to preserve cognition and to prevent cognitive decline or dementia and could be recommended without any real drawbacks..." and "A possible beneficial effect of board game playing on the risk of dementia could be mediated by less cognitive decline and less depression in elderly board game players."- Jean Francois Dartigues, 2013.
On a personal note, one of the reasons I moved to Omaha 7 years ago was to be able to spend more time with my grandparents. Both of them were intrepid game players. Most of our family gatherings involved games, and grandpa was always the one to beat (grandma was usually 2nd). When I got them Catan, grandpa quickly figured out strategies while grandma talked you into making all kinds of trades. They provided me a real-world and very personal example of how playing games keeps away depression and cognitive decline, even as their physical health worsened.
My grandparents, life-long gamers. The last picture I have of us playing a game, Hand and Foot, would not get grandma's approval for sharing, so here they are before then. :-)
One of our goals as a non-profit is to make it easier for seniors to have access to playing board games. Not only at our cafe, but also by providing specially chosen games and assisting materials to retirement and assisted-living centers. We are also working with geriatric and public health researchers at UNMC to create novel research in this area.
Our volunteer S3 coordinator, Jessica Steffen, regularly sees the benefit of playing games with elderly residents and she is excited to help others do the same. Not many people know about this connection with board games, and we hope to help educate as well as to improve the mental health of our community. I think we all could use less cognitive decline and less depression!