A couple of large studies in the past few years have discovered that using computers can had a dramatic effect on delaying the onset of dementia, a decline in mental ability which affects memory, thinking, problem-solving, concentration and perception.
Data from the Bronx Aging Study that looked at a group of older individuals showed that the hazard of dementia was decreased amongst older adults involved in cognitively stimulating activities, with the lowest risk observed for the most active participants (Verghese, et.al, 2003)* Regular involvement in mentally demanding activities improves function and may reduce the risk of dementia. (Almeida, et.al, 2012).**
Another study (Moore, 2012)*** reports that a personal computer can lower the risk of dementia by up to 40 percent in men. This study followed 5,000 men for eight years and found that computer users had a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of developing dementia than people who didn’t use them. More research will occur as our population ages and the cost of caring for these individuals rises exponentially.
So, you may think this is all well and good, but want to know what an individual can do to encourage someone to engage in appropriate activities that help delay these problems. Fortunately we use Macs, iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches. This means it is relatively simple to play games, work puzzles, or visit with others using Messages or Skype. Even people with physical handicaps can use Macs with some ease.
Give me some ideas!
Start with games. It is the easiest way to get comfortable with a computer or iOS device and they challenge the mind. As users become more confident, they can then branch out and experiment according to their individual interests.
There are four games for iOS devices that I particularly recommend. They offer activities that will interest older adults and they are fun.
The first one, Chain of Thought was released in 2012. I reviewed it when it was released. The game offers several words and the player must match up the most appropriate. For instance if you were given the words butter, churn, lunch, fly, paper, and bag, the correct sequence would be churn-butter, butter-fly, fly-paper, paper-bag, and bag-lunch. The choices get more difficult as the game progresses. This game exercises memory, association, and cognitive skills. [free with in-app purchases, 27.6MB, all iOS devices, iOS 4.3 or later]
Get+Together is a new offering from the same developers as Chain of Thought. Get+Together is proving to be equally challenging and fun. Players are given a definition such as “aquatic animal with whiskers” Below the definition are eight images and the player must choose the images that most closely fit the definition. For instance if the pictures below our definition are meat, ring, ill person, fish, soccer ball, cat, house, and ear, the player should choose the cat and the fish in the proper order. This game also exercises memory, association, and cognitive skills. [free with in-app purchases, 16.0 MB, all iOS devices, iOS 5.0 or later]
Another game worth checking out is 94 Seconds. In this game you answer as many questions as you can about various subjects in 94 seconds. Players have to answer as many questions as possible in the time allotted. For example if you are given the definition “vegetables” and must respond with a word that starts with “A,” artichoke would be an accepted answer. Each answer is worth one point, but players can earn two points if they provide a correct, yet difficult or hard-to-spell answer. Spelling counts. 94 Seconds exercises memory, association, and cognitive skills. Thanks to Vern Seward for this recommendation. [free with in-app purchases, 25.3MB, iPhone 3Gs or newer, iPod Touch 3 gen or newer, iPad, iOS 5.0 or later]
Vern also suggested Clockwork Brain. This game requires you to play four different memory games in sequence.They are Missing Tiles, Anagrams, Chase the Numbers, Scrolling Silhouettes. As each game progresses it gets more difficult. Clockwork Brain really requires the player to be on his or her toes. It challengesIt exercises memory, association, dexterity and pattern recognition. [free with in-app purchases, 81.2MB, all iOS devices, iOS 4.3 or later]
The recommendations for Macs are much more generic than those for iOS devices. That is primarily because it is easier to find things on the internet by subject, something that is difficult in the App Store.
AARP offers crossword puzzles at at no cost. Once you set up your identity you can play all kinds of crossword puzzles from easy to hard and you get instant feedback on your answer. Correct answers turn green. The site is full of advertisements for AARP, but this is one of the better crossword sites that I have discovered and the topics for questions are geared to older people. You can also find several versions of crossword puzzles in the App Store.
And speaking of the App Store, go there and look for puzzle games such as Mahjong or solitaire. There are bunches of options for both. Try Chess or Scrabble. You can find several options for both of them too.
Spell Tower - $3.99: This game requires you to arrange presented letters into as many words as possible. It takes real concentration and good spelling skills.
Perhaps it seems obvious that using our brains can help keep them in better shape. I'm sure that we'll be learning more about these things as time marches on, but in the meanwhile, Macs and iOS devices can certainly help keep us mentally active.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
*Verghese J, Lipton RB, Katz MJ, Hall CB, Derby CA, et al. (2003) Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. N Engl J Med 348: 2508–2516.
**Almeida OP, Yeap BB, Alfonso H, Hankey GJ, Flicker L, et al. (2012) Older Men Who Use Computers Have Lower Risk of Dementia. PLoS ONE 7(8): e44239.
***Moore, Amber (2012) Computer Use Lowers Dementia Risk in Men. Medical Daily.