Sharper Brain: The Cognitive Benefits of Card Games

Rusali Adhikari
4 min read


Cognition refers to skills that involve acquiring knowledge and understanding through thinking, experiencing, and using senses, at specific tasks, such as learning the definition of a word, adding two numbers together, or rotating a geometric figure in the head. This includes a range of complex intellectual functions and activities such as memory, attention, perception, language, decision-making, reasoning, planning, judgment, knowledge, and visuospatial function.

What is Cognitive Impairment?

Cognitive impairment is not a disease but rather a term used to describe a person's condition when they experience difficulties with mental processes such as memory or concentration, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. It may also include difficulties with communication or comprehension and recognizing people, places, or things.

Cognitive deficiencies can occur from birth or later in life due to environmental factors such as brain injuries, mental illnesses, and neurological disorders. While not all elderly individuals will suffer from cognitive impairments, such deficits are more common among this population.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 55 million around the globe have dementia, with over 60% living in low and middle-income countries. As the proportion of older people is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.  

According to a study in the AIMDR, it is assumed that the prevalence rate of dementia among Nepalese senior citizens aged 60 and above is 3%, which is lower than the prevalence rate of 5% found in LMICs for the 65+ population. Based on this estimate, it can be extrapolated that at least 66,000 Nepalese individuals are affected by some form of dementia. Recent epidemiological studies conducted in LMICs have data that have been used to estimate the prevalence of dementia in Nepal. In addition, the CDC reported that subjective cognitive decline (SCD) affects 11.1% of people, or 1 in 9 in the United States of America. The statistics show how cognitive impairment has become an epidemic around the world.

Can Card/Board Games help people with Cognitive Decline?

Researchers have been working to find ways to detect and slow cognitive impairment, as it is becoming increasingly prevalent in aging populations worldwide. In recent years, studies have shown that engaging in social activities such as playing board games and card games can positively impact cognitive function and potentially lower the risk of developing cognitive impairment. As a result, researchers are exploring the potential benefits of incorporating these types of games into cognitive training programs.

By encouraging seniors to play games with their peers, they can simultaneously promote socialization and cognitive stimulation, which could lead to a better quality of life for those at risk of developing cognitive decline.

These findings can potentially revolutionize how we approach cognitive health in aging populations and offer hope for the future of dementia prevention and treatment.

The results of the pilot and main study in a research (Cognitive Training with Modern Board and Card Games in Healthy Older Adults: Two Randomized Controlled Trials ) suggest that modern board and card games can have a positive impact on cognitive functions. Moreover, board and card games were found to maintain motor impulsivity control, while paper-and-pencil tasks improved speed in an inhibition task. These findings suggest that board and card games could be an effective cognitive intervention for individuals with cognitive impairment, helping them to maintain and improve their cognitive abilities.

Gielis et. al talk about the development of a generic toolkit for card games using image processing. This is to capture digital biomarkers indicative of the cognitive performance that have the potential to aid in the early diagnosis and management of cognitive health problems. Early diagnosis and frequent follow-up of cognitive health problems are crucial to managing disease progression and allowing for timely treatment. The implementation of this toolkit on the Microsoft 10 Solitaire Collection allows for the unobtrusive monitoring of gameplay to capture digital biomarkers in real time with minimum stress on the CPU. The exploratory study results suggest that time-based digital biomarkers and outcome-related measures show a steady decline in the older age group. These findings suggest that card games such as solitaire weaved into the daily life of players could be a promising tool for capturing digital biomarkers for cognitive health and aiding in the early diagnosis and management of cognitive impairment.

Card and board games have been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function and may even help with cognitive impairment. A study conducted by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute found that playing card games, in particular, can help increase brain volume in various regions of the brain, leading to improved memory and thinking skills. Additionally, engaging in card and board games on a regular basis has been linked to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. These games require players to use problem-solving skills, memory, attention, and decision-making abilities, all of which can help keep the brain active and healthy.  

Another study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed that older individuals who engaged socially while playing card and board games improved their executive function. These games require players to use critical thinking, problem-solving, and memory skills, which can help keep the brain active and healthy.

A popular card game, Blackjack, has also been studied to help with Cognition. The act of counting cards in blackjack is often associated with profit and strategic gameplay. However, it can also have cognitive benefits, by keeping track of the cards that have already been played, players are exercising their memory and attention to detail. This could help improve cognitive function and potentially even slow cognitive decline in older adults.  Overall, all the above studies’ results suggest that incorporating board and card games into cognitive rehabilitation programs may be a promising strategy for enhancing cognitive function and quality of life for individuals with cognitive impairment.

Fun Ways to Combat Cognition Impairment

Playing card games such as Marriage, Spades, Call Break,  War, and board games such as Ludo, and Chess, can be a fun and effective way to help prevent cognitive impairment in older adults. In this era of technology, where families are continents apart, computer cards and board  games could become the perfect way to hit nostalgia and strengthen cognitive skills. Bhoos Games has been on a mission to strengthen social interactions via social games such as Marriage, Call Break, and Ludo. These social  games have the potential to slow down cognitive decline along with providing family members a chance to deepen relationships.

With time, just like any part of our body, our brain also starts getting weaker, and in such times, we should avoid hectic schedules but rather play games and live life with friends and family.

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