Play Brain Games to Help Improve Your Memory

Great brain exercises for adults include crossword puzzles, chess, and other memory games.

Retired couple playing chess, a brain game.

(wavebreakmedia /

Many retirees spend time playing games like sudoku, crossword puzzles, and social games like chess or scrabble. These games keep people thinking and give their brains a good workout. But can they really help improve memory and reduce cognitive decline?

The idea of using games that are specifically geared to brain training is very complicated according to Harvard Health but research published in The Cambridge University Press has found that leisure time activities that make people think may contribute to a risk of dementia and cognitive impairment later in life. And brain games certainly make people think and use acquired skills.

Brain games sharpen certain thinking skills like short-term memory decision making, planning skills, and reaction time according to Dr. Julie Brody-Magid, clinical director of the Memory Disorders Assessment Clinic at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. Many of these skills ebb as people age, especially after retirement.

“Learning to use your brain in response to other forms of stimulation can help strengthen valuable mental skills, which older men [and women]continue to need and rely on every day,” Brody-Magid told Harvard Health.

In addition to sharpening these skills, brain games help with memory by building up cognitive reserve that your brain can call upon and use when you need quick thinking. “Also, your reserve may even help provide resilience against age-related memory loss and dementia,” said Dr. Brody-Magid.

The best way to build up cognitive reserve is to stay physically active, especially when you age, and by taking care of your health by eating right and managing chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. All of these go hand-in-hand with playing brain games. “In this way, participating in brain games actually can help with cognition, but it's a team effort, said Brody-Magid. “You can't do it by doing crossword puzzles alone.”

So, if you want to mix it up and combine different types of brain boosting games here’s a selection from Very Well Mind. Sudoku, a number placement game, relies on short-term memory and concentration. Sudoku puzzles are available in newspapers, in books, and online. Crossword puzzles are the classic brain game that revolves around long-term memory and knowledge. Crosswords can be relatively easy to complete or be real brain teasers like the ones in the New York Times. You can also find them in newspapers and books.

Rubik’s cube is the ultimate brain teaser and comes with a host of benefits. Solving the famous puzzle cube uses muscle memory to do repetitive things like playing a piano, typing, and punching in secret codes like pin numbers or setting home alarms. Solving the cube also improves your problem solving and concentration skills.

If you prefer online games you can check-out Braingle, a free site that has over 15,000 puzzles, trivia, riddles, and more. According to Very Well Mind, you can even create your own puzzles to get your creative juices flowing too.

Just remember, you need to participate in multiple activities to get the best benefits according to Harvard Health. “It's just like exercising your muscles. If you only do biceps curls, your arms will get stronger, but your legs won't,” said Brody-Magid. So, play some brain games to exercise your brain cells and reap all of the benefits.

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