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Practical Caregiving

The Games People Play -- Especially Older People

By Jean Donahue

When I was a child, we visited my grandparents who lived in a small farming community. There was a courthouse in the center of town and a bandstand where local musicians performed. I enjoyed visiting there because I loved my grandparents, but also because of the happy feeling I got when we saw their friends. Their friends always made me feel welcome and important.  

I remember walking into a store and seeing "old" men playing checkers. They were retired farmers and businessmen. Those men didnít get mad when someone else won. They all laughed and kidded each other. Occasionally, they would even let me decide which move they should make. It was so much fun. 

Being a child, I thought that retirement must be wonderful. After all, you had all day to play -- like I did in the summer. I loved my summers. When I was taking care of Mom and Dad full-time, I found that sometimes retirement can be what I imagined it to be as a child. After all, some people travel to retirement areas and play games. There is shuffelboard, swimming, golf, various card games, and other types of games for their entertainment. When they return home, they get together with their friends to play games. Games were a way of life.

I also found that getting "old" wasn't what I thought as a child. People suffer from various diseases, and life isn't always fun. Some people aren't mentally challenged, or aren't able to be mentally challenged. Life for them must be very dull and boring. Mom had Alzheimer's disease, and even she enjoyed using her mind at the level it was. When I was taking care of her she couldn't even read the newspaper, but she enjoyed children's activities and children's television programming.

Today, there is a lot of research into whether various games will help a person keep their mind functioning as well as it has all their life. Some studies indicate playing games might help stave off dementia, but so far they haven't answered the most important question: Does a person's mind stay sharp because they play games, or do they play games because their mind is already sharp? It is the age-old question, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"

You can also get more technical. There is short-term memory and long-term memory. What affects the short-term memory and what affects the long-term memory? Does the age that you develop your mind affect how it functions in old age? What about your environment? Nutrition? Stress? Heredity?

Whatever the answer, a person will be happier if they are busy doing something they enjoy. They will be happier if they are using their mind, even if it has deteriorated to that of a child like Mom's did.

But, just what is available for our loved ones?

I was amazed at the list of things for the elderly I could find on the internet. You can use the internet and television to play games, or you can buy them to play the old fashioned way -- with your hands and your mind. Some of the games I found are:

Puzzles with large pieces and large pictures
Large print playing cards
Bingo cards with large numbers
Crossword puzzles in large print
Various other word games
Games for reminiscing and remembering
Activity books for reminiscing and remembering
Video games
Arcade games that can be played on television sets
Games that can be played on the computer
Larger Jacks

There was just about any game you can think of!

The term "use it or lose it" is quoted by a lot of elderly people to refer to their mind and body. I have had a couple jobs where I was bored beyond belief. After a while, I found I was more tired, sleepy and less motivated as a result of my boredom. Regardless of whether stimulating someone's mind will help prevent the progression of mind-robbing diseases like dementia or Alzheimer's, it will have other beneficial affects. Your loved one will be happier and more motivated. They will have something to look forward to. They won't be bored.

Make sure you aren't getting something that is too difficult for your loved one, or too simple. When Mom's Alzheimer's disease had progressed to the point that she was like a little child, she would not have enjoyed a crossword puzzle. She couldn't even read. When she first contracted the disease, however, she could have worked a crossword puzzle and thoroughly enjoy it. Still, I don't remember Mom ever working a crossword puzzle. That wasn't something she ever enjoyed.

If you can't find exactly what you and your loved one want to play, remember that you can put together your own game. You can make your own books to reminisce and remember. You can use your own creativity, even if you don't think you have any. Try it; you'll see.