10 Board Games You Can Play With Dementia Patients
It’s easy to think you should avoid board games for people with dementia. You don’t want to stress them out or highlight their difficulties. With dementia come problems with memory and cognition – obstacles to successful board game enjoyment. However, the right board games, chosen wisely, can actually help. Indeed one study into the use of Bingo with dementia patients concluded that “a simple cognitive activity such as Bingo can be of great value to the daily management of Alzheimer’s patients”.
There are some important things you need to pay attention to. Often in our experience at our care homes in Devon, our dementia residents are also struggling with the usual challenges of old age. Board and tabletop games should be visibly colourful or striking, and the players should be actively able to handle the pieces. This means choosing larger scaled versions, such as large playing cards, can be beneficial as well as using items such as playing card holders. Sensory stimulation in playing the game is important, so you need to make this as stress-free as possible to encourage the individual to stay engaged and play.
It’s also important when choosing board games for dementia patients that you allow the individual have some input into their preferred game. Many of our top 10 games below are chosen for their familiarity to individuals of this generation. You’ll reap greater rewards when a dementia patient can choose a game familiar from childhood or from playing with their own children.
Finally, do remember that dementia is progressive and therefore what games suit one stage of the disease, may not suit a later stage. The social interaction of playing board games with dementia patients always brings benefits. So, where possible, adjust the games accordingly.
What to Avoid in Board Games for Dementia Patients
To keep things running smoothly and beneficial for your time with your loved one, and their well-being we suggest avoiding some types of board games. You should avoid:
- Complex games of strategy: these will confuse and cause bewilderment, potentially highlighting what they can’t do, rather than what they can.
- Word-based games in later stages of the disease: while games such as Scrabble, especially with large tiles, can be popular and excellent at early stages of the disease, these can become stressful and detrimental as time goes on.
- Time-pressured games: in our experience in our care homes in Devon, time-pressured games add unnecessary stress to what should be an enjoyable activity. We particularly notice this across generations where younger people are used to living life at a faster pace.
- Too much physicality: some board and tabletop games, which have a physical element (such as table-top skittles) can be ideal for encouraging gentle movement. However, games which involve too much physical exertion can add another dimension of challenge for the dementia patient, which will hinder the overall effectiveness of the game.
- New games: new games and those with electronic components can pose a challenge for dementia patients. While we understand that it may seem nice for a grandchild to bring in a new game to share, this can cause distress on both sides. It’s best to stick with the familiar and teach these old classics to the younger generation.
So which board games and tabletop games are good for individuals with dementia? Here are our top 10.
We are starting with Bingo, as we know from the above study that it’s great for providing the right level of mental stimulation. It’s also highly familiar and focuses on cognition without too much stress. Furthermore, you can get larger scaled Bingo cards. The study mentioned that care workers reported increases in patients’ alertness and the benefits lasted for several hours. Bingo in care homes isn’t just about a fun activity, therefore, but something truly beneficial. Another benefit is that you can move away from numbers and use anything from animals to food or body parts if you are trying to work on specific recall.
- Noughts and Crosses
Yes, you can use a piece of paper, but there are many tabletop versions available. These versions are useful if eyesight is failing. They also encourage a small amount of physical manipulation of the pieces. Noughts and Crosses is such a familiar game that this can be a game to be enjoyed even in the later stages of dementia.
- Snakes and Ladders
An old favourite from childhood and so universal that the rules will be familiar, Snakes and Ladders is an ideal board game for dementia patients on many different levels. The bright colours make the board easy to see. It’s also great for enjoying with grandchildren. You can also buy preschool editions of the game, which come with larger pieces and dice.
- Call to Mind
Call to Mind is a board game that has been developed by an occupational therapist with guidance from psychiatrists and others in the field, specifically for those with dementia. Call to Mind describes itself as a “specially designed board game that helps get to know and understand the thinking, like and dislikes of someone with dementia.” It sparks conversation and can be played across the generations.
- 20 Questions
You can purchase versions of this much-loved classic car game, or you can simply let the dementia patient lead. By allowing the individual with dementia to choose a significant thing from their past, and having to answer ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions about it, you cement memories and enter their world. This is particularly important as sharing memories is key to peace of mind when suffering with dementia. It enables focus on what they can remember, rather than what they can’t.
The striking black and white design of Dominoes makes them ideal for elderly patients. Furthermore, the concepts are extremely easy, even if not familiar. The game can be enjoyed with two or more players and has the added benefit that the pieces aren’t small.
Again, Draughts is an old classic that is both striking to look at and simple to play. Dementia patients will likely struggle with more complex strategy games such as Chess, but Draughts retains the challenge of thinking, without the bewildering different playing pieces.
- Card Games
Using larger playing cards, and perhaps a playing card holder, there are a myriad of card games that are suitable for those with dementia. Avoid games which involve misdirection or lying, such as Poker, but games such as Old Maid can be popular, especially in the earlier stages of the condition. Again, Old Maid is likely to be familiar to many from their childhood.
Batik is a fantastic game of very basic strategy, but encourages both communication and manual dexterity. Players take turns to put different coloured, different shaped pieces in a stack in a playing area between two transparent sheets. Take turns to put in a piece without it sticking out: you lose pieces if you can’t. This game is also popular with younger visitors to our care homes, perhaps because it’s not unlike Tetris!
A card game with brightly coloured and clear cards, Uno can be great, especially in the earlier stages of dementia. It may be new to the players, which could determine its success, but it can be made more or less simple with adaptations to the rules. Matching numbers and colours, it can be enjoyed by larger numbers of players as well.
Board games for dementia patients are not only excellent ways of boosting and supporting cognition and memory, they also allow focus and time to be given to the individual. When conversation can be tricky, board games and tabletop games give way into the discussion. They can also build confidence, especially when enjoying games that are familiar from the past.
At Eastleigh care homes Devon, we have a dedicated activities co-ordinator who organises enjoying board games as one part of our varied and much-loved activities programme.