Cognitive Activities for the Elderly

Cognitive skills are any mental skills that are used in the process of acquiring knowledge and include reasoning, perception, and intuition.[1] Participating in certain mentally stimulating activities later in life, such as reading magazines or crafting, may delay or prevent memory loss, as well as help the elderly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and forms of dementia.[2,3] The following are activities that can help seniors stimulate their cognitive skills:

Playing Games

Depending on the type, length, and detail of a board game, it can stimulate both right and left brain hemispheres, which can improve mental and cognitive function.[4] Below are a few games to consider.


Requiring both semantic and short-term memory skills, Scrabble requires left-brain activity, since it focuses on the details and smaller puzzles involved with the game. The game encourages seniors to recall basic information and build a strong set of memory skills.[4]


As a highly left-brain activity, chess requires skill, intelligence, and planning ability. Though a fairly easy game to learn, the longer an elder plays the game, the more it becomes an opportunity to exercise their mental skills.[4]


Another left-brain activity, backgammon is a cognitive and intellectual enhancer since it helps to increase cognitive skills and process a variety of sequences. The game can also help prevent symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.[4]


Parcheesi (also called Trouble and Sorry) can stimulate both right and left-brain hemispheres, and can help with hand-eye coordination as well as basic problem solving. Involving dice and counters to move around a board, the game can be easily learned.[4]

Chinese Checkers

Chinese Checkers involves problem-solving and right-brain thinking, as well as logic and sequencing required by the left brain.[4]

Mah Jongg

Mah Jongg stimulates both left and right brain hemispheres since memory, logic, and identifying patterns are a core component of the game. The game is played with tiles and can be a long game with multiple players.[4]


Solving puzzles, such as jigsaw puzzles, crossword, word search, Sudoku, and crypto quotes can help stimulate cognitive skills.


Keeping memories alive is a great way to jog your loved one’s memory. The following are ideas for reminding seniors about loved ones in their lives:

  • Display pictures in frames with captions of names, dates, and events in visible areas, and create scrapbooks of memories to go over with your love one[5]
  • Re-read letters, greeting cards, and holiday pictures sent to your elder from old friends and loved ones[5]
  • Visit as often as possible. During your visits, try writing notes to remind seniors who you are or wear a name tag stating helpful information, such as, “My name is Sandy. You are my Aunt. I love you.” Also, try to wear your hair and clothes in a similar fashion each time you visit so you are more easily recognizable.[5]


Staying socially connected has been shown to protect against dementia and ease the pain of cognitive decline.[6] According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, socially isolated elders appeared less satisfied with their lives, less optimistic, and generally in a poorer state of health than those with rich social networks.[6] The study also found that socializing is a strong motivation for participation in other healthy behaviors, especially exercise.[6]

To get your loved one involved in social activities, seek out local senior centers, municipalities, park districts, townships, church groups, and colleges that offer services catered to seniors. Visit to search for agencies in your loved one’s area.

For a more consistent option, consider an adult day care, which provides a planned program of activities designed to promote well-being through social and health-related services in a safe, supportive, and cheerful environment. To search for local adult day cares, visit

Developing Hobbies

Getting involved with interests or hobbies can help both the mind and body.[7] From gardening and fishing to sewing and painting, potential hobbies abound. Local senior centers, municipalities, park districts, townships, church groups, and colleges usually provide activities catered just for seniors. Visit to search for agencies that offer services in your elder’s area.

While it’s difficult to witness a loved one’s cognitive abilities decline, the above ideas give you options to help make the process easier.


  1. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Cognitive Skills. Retrieved August 28, 2009 from the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory Web Site:
  2. National Institute on Aging. (February 13, 2002) “Use It Or Lose It?” Study Suggests Mentally Stimulating Activities May Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk. Retrieved August 28, 2009 from the National Institute on Aging Web Site:
  3. C. B. Hall, R. B. Lipton, M. Sliwinski, M. J. Katz, C. A. Derby, and J. Verghese. Cognitive activities delay onset of memory decline in persons who develop dementia. Neurology. 2009;73:356-361. Retrieved August 25, 2009 from the Web Site:
  4. Karimi, Sabah. (July 18, 2006) Board Games for Seniors. Retrieved August 28, 2009 from the Associated Press Web Site:
  5. Jennrich, Janienne. (August 25, 2007) Memory Help for Senior Citizens. Retrieved August 28, 2009 from the Suite 101 Web Site:
  6. Fratiglioni, L, Wang, H. X., Ericsson, K., et al. The Influence of Social Network on the Occurrence of Dementia: A Community-Based Longitudinal Study. Lancet. 2000 Apr 15;355(9212):1315-9
  7. National Institute on Aging. (August 7, 2009) Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help. Retrieved August 28, 2009 from the National Institute on Aging Web Site:

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

Visit BetterHelp, our Top rated online therapy provider.


This blog post is sponsored by BetterHelp, but all opinions are our own.”

“ may receive compensation from BetterHelp or other sources if you purchase products or services through the links provided on this page.”