Often times it is said and written that stimulating leisure activities may be protective against dementia, mainly through the enhancement of cognitive reserve. Engaging in stimulating activities, learning new things, and generally keeping one’s brain active, creates new neural connections, and therefore contribute to a greater cognitive reserve. In addition, leisure activities may also help in cases of depression, which is one of the key risk factors for dementia.
Some scientists were interested is evaluating the impact and effect that playing board games could have on cognitive health, one’s risk for dementia, and depression. Why board games? Because board games are one of the most stimulating activities an older person can engage in, and has a series of advantages compared to other leisure activities:
- It promotes exposure to novelty;
- It promotes social interaction and exchange with different generations;
- It is inexpensive;
- It can be adapted to different levels of complexity;
- People with physical disability, mild hearing or visual impairment can play board games;
- They can be played regardless of the weather conditions.
There is some evidence that playing board games improves cognitive performance in healthy adults, but the results on whether they can have an effect on people with MCI or dementia are not conclusive and quite contradictory.
What they found out, after analysing data from a very wide population, is that playing games is a very common leisure activity in elderly people in France (where the study was conducted), with 1/3 of participants over the age 65 reporting playing regularly. Furthermore, they were able to observe game players to have a 15% lower risk of developing dementia than non-players, a result that remains robust even after adjusting for confounding variables, such as age, gender, education, stroke or diabetes.
The scientists were also able to observe the relationship between games, cognitive health and depression. Specifically, they saw that board game players had both less cognitive decline and less incident depression than non-players.
So, if you’re feeling like having a game session with friends and family, then go for it, your brain will thank you!
Dartigues, J., et al., (2013), Playing board games, cognitive decline and dementia: a French population-based cohort study, in “Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery”, 3(8).