Want to Stay Mentally Sharp? Play Bingo.

Maria Morioka, BSN, RN
December 31, 2019

If you’ve ever watched older gentleman play speed chess in the park, then you already know this to be true: Playing games can keep you mentally sharp as you age.


Staying Sharp with Age

Mental decline with age is not inevitable.  People can keep their minds quick thinking as they age by engaging in interactive games. These games don’t have to be brain busters like Jeopardy! or Clue. A recent study demonstrated that an increase in game playing, like chess or checkers, as people age can help to keep the mind agile. 

Research Into Thinking Skills at 70

A recent study published in the Journal of Gerontology found that people who engaged in increased game playing later in life displayed less decline in thinking skills well into their 70s.  Researchers tested a sample population of 1,000 people ages 70-79 to observe how thinking skills changed with age. 

The participants were administered tests measuring problem-solving, thinking speed, thinking ability, and memory. These same tests were repeated with the group every three years. Research participants answered questionnaires about their lifestyle and behaviors throughout the project.

The researchers found that participants who increased game playing as they aged experienced less mental decline than other participants, especially in the areas of memory function and thinking speed. The games surveyed were non-digital and interactive, meaning the games were not on an electronic device, and interactions were in person.

Age is Inevitable. Mental Decline is Not.

These findings align with other recent studies indicating that mental decline can be slowed or stopped with age.  These studies can help to shed some light on ways to protect mental health as people age. Lifestyle choices made throughout a lifetime can impact brain function, especially later in life.  Positive behaviors, such as staying active and engaged, seem to reduce the chances of cognitive decline. 

Researchers are interested in conducting more studies into why and how game playing preserves mental agility.  There may be a component within the games responsible for the positive outcomes. In many of the games, a social or interactive factor may play a part in the positive results. However, when considering these factors, researchers found a connection to the games themselves to be the responsible determinant for delaying mental decline. By finding out which games were more effective than others, researchers could develop specific games to preserve mental processes as people age.

It’s important to note other factors that may have an overall influence on mental processing. Health, physical activity, genetics, sleep, social interactions, stress, and environment are all vital elements when it comes to brain function, especially with age.

Key to a Youthful Brain

Brain function may not be as static as once believed. The brain is pliable, responsive, and evolves with age. Taking care of mental processing is a lifelong commitment. Essential self-care for the mind includes adequate sleep, minimal stress, and mental stimulation. Mental stimulation, according to the research, can come in the form of games. Not only is playing bingo, mahjong, and canasta fun, they’re useful for maintaining thinking skills.  So, find some friends and play a game of Texas Hold’Em to keep the mind young. Research shows it’s never too late to start. 

Maria Morioka, BSN, RN

Maria Morioka, BSN, RN has been a Licensed Registered Nurse in the mental health field for nearly 15 years. Maria strongly believes in educating others about the importance of mental health.

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