Improve Your Thinking Skills with Brain Games

Are You at the Top of Your Thinking Game?

Most people I know--people aged 40 and better--feel that they've lost some of their minds' sharpness over the years. Many experts cite the peak of mental ability to be anywhere from ages 18 to 25. The Seattle Longitudinal Study, begun in 1956 and continuing today, finds that those numbers are hogwash and poppycock (okay, that's not exactly how they said it, but that's what they meant.)

To the contrary, such cognitive skills as perceptual speed, spatial orientation, verbal and numeric abilities and verbal memory come together at a peak between ages 53 to 60 years of age.

January 2012 Update: A comprehensive study of more than 7,000 people, reported in the British Medical Journal concludes that cognitive decline begins earlier than has been accepted for decades. Cognitive decline may begin as early as age 40.

Boost Your Brain Power

A Personal Story

Having been a nurse for twenty-some years, I decided at age 40 to go to college to get a much-desired bachelor's degree. I had the same anxieties as any new student, but was also concerned I might not still possess the study and learning skills of my younger years.

I was happily surprised that I was not only able to keep up with the young students, but was able to grasp theory concepts and apply them to real-life situations. I observed that my life experiences added something to the learning that those kids fresh out of high school did not yet have.

I'm proud to say I maintained a 4.0 average while also working full-time. Am I a genius? Nope, just a person with an average IQ and a motivated learner. I did find that my reading comprehension was not as sharp as in earlier years, so I developed new methods to overcome this issue.

The point is, I think, that we should not sell ourselves short at any age. I was fortunate to meet an 85-year-old man who, at that age, finally realized his lifelong dream of earning his Ph.D. Your goal may not include a college degree--you may simply want to remain mentally intact and sharp--and that's attainable also. It's important to believe in your abilities and not give up or give in to naysayers.

January 2012 Update: Research on Effect of Brain Games on Cognitive Loss

A small but important study reported at concluded that even in the short term (15 minutes, 5 days a week for 4 weeks), brain games such as the Nintendo video game Brains Age, can lead to improvement in cognitive functions in older adults including increases in decision-making and thought processing speed.

More research will need to be done to determine if these results are one-of-a-kind or a replicable, but the implications of this one study are hopeful. It could mean that some loss of cognitive skills, in the absence of disease, could be reversed with tools such as brain games.

Scientific Findings

This is where I'd like to be able to discuss a fair number of clinical studies that demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that keeping your mind active can delay or prevent dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, no such data exists.

First of all, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Dementia occurs in some people and not in others as they age. There is no current method for knowing who will and who won't be likely to have dementia. This means no method of scientific study can say whether or not any activity or inactivity lead to the cause or prevention of the condition.

Alzheimer's disease is even trickier in that it can't truly be officially diagnosed until after death, and then only if an autopsy of the brain is performed. Here again, because science currently can't predict with any accuracy as to who will or will not have the condition in the future, there is no way to measure prevention or cause.

One finding that researchers came upon recently was that regular, moderate physical activity seems to prevent early onset of dementia symptoms. The thinking is that instead of a physically active person going through the months or years of subtle dementia symptoms, they will skip those years and instead experience full dementia.

Again, this is a theory, but if researchers are correct, being physically active may allow you to experience more time with a good quality of life before dementia occurs. Truthfully, it isn't likely you will know that should it occur. Regular physical activity has been shown to be part of a healthy lifestyle, keeping many of your body systems in their best condition, so why not your brain? Even if your cognitive skills don't get a boost from exercise, other parts of your body will and it can even aid in reducing depression and improving self-image.

Brain Training Basics

IQ Boost Game for Ipod Touch and IPhone

Brain Games and Other Things

There are so many ways to challenge your mind: from reading to writing, from crossword puzzles to sudoku, from attending classes to teaching classes. What you do doesn't have to be a formal "brain game," although many of those are available from the Internet, to phone applications, to books. Rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time--or vice versa--see if that doesn't work your mind!

Socialization is important to staving off depression and cognitive losses. You don't need to be a social butterfly to benefit from socialization, but it is important to feel you have a few people with whom you can be yourself and chitchat about life.

Learn a new game or skill such as woodworking or a craft of some kind. Watch educational television. (Regular, entertainment television for the most part causes little brain wave activity.) Join a card club or bowling league. Volunteer for a local organization or school.

You could pick up an instrument you used to play and renew your skills--or learn to play a new instrument. Read maps. Balance your checkbook without a calculator. Learn a new language or teach English in an "English as a second language" class. Learn to draw or paint.

These are jumping off points for you to consider and create your own individualized plan for keeping the gray matter working. There are no guarantees that any or all of these things will prevent any future conditions, but I do believe your quality of life will be enhanced.

More by this Author

What ways or methods do you use to keep your mind sharp? 45 comments

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Great information and I'm sharing this hub because I was just part of a collaboration of hubbers over 50 on a series about the aspects of ageing. They will love this hub.

Also, you left me some fan mail saying you thought you could trust what I write. Thank you sincerely - but - DANGER, DANGER WILL ROBINSON !!! Read my hubs with a very critical eye. I'm only one opinion - but thank you. SHARING

L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

SellyCells, thank you for your kind words. I think that anyone/everyone who has an enjoyment of learning new things/new ideas will keep their mind fresh. It's when we close ourselves to change or improvement that our minds not only become "stiff," but we make ourselves obsolete.

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SellyCells 4 years ago

Great article and information. Your a perfect example of hard work and dedication no matter how old you are. Glad to see everything go well for you LL.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Pedrn44, congratulations on making the Dean's list in your previous school experience and wishing you the best of success in attaining your BSN.

I definitely need to add something like Soduko to my "games." I stick more to word games, but need to branch out.

Thank you for SHARING.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Alphagirl, it sounds like you have a healthy routine for both mind and body. Best of success with your piano lessons.

Thanks for SHARING.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Brett, I'm with you. I enjoy the challenges of learning new things, whether it be in a classroom or in life.

Thanks for SHARING.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

BlissfulWriter, you hit the nail on the head with your observation. Especially in theory-based classes, I felt more able to relate to and evaluate the theories based on life experiences.

pedrn44 profile image

pedrn44 5 years ago from New Berlin Wisconsin

This is very interesting. The videos and links are great. I used to do logic puzzles, then crosswords and now Soduko. When I went back to school at age 48 I was a much better student and made Dean's list. I am also a Nurse and was working on my Bachelor's degree at the time. Unfortunately I did not finish and am planning on returning to school again to complete my degree. Thanks for all the info. Voted up and SHARED:)

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alphagirl 5 years ago from USA

I signed on to learn piano for the very reason and also play lumocity. keeps the brain fresh. Walking my dog daily forces me to get fresh air and keep circulation going. codliver oil is a great brain food too. Thanks for sharing and reminding us all.

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Brett.Tesol 5 years ago from Thailand

Keeping an active body and mind is an old way to approach life, but seems it is one of the best! I still haven't stopped studying, and now am not sure I ever will. I find learning new things to be fun and challenging, with a sense of pride when you master it!

Thanks for SHARING.

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BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

Older students can do better than younger students because they can relate what they've learn to life experiences that younger students have yet to experience.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

SanneL, I'm glad you enjoyed. Mental jumping jacks and push-ups will hopefully keep the neural pathways clear for years to come.

Thanks for SHARING.

SanneL profile image

SanneL 5 years ago from Sweden

Interesting and very useful hub! Brain games are fun and keep our brains alert and on its toes. Great videos. Thanks for sharing this brainy hub with us!

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Theking2020, thanks for the read and your comment. Likening the brain to a muscle does help in the understanding that it must be used to stay flexible and in top shape.

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theking2020 5 years ago

Great information, our brain should be train it is a muscle like all other muscles, since is the one that controls them all.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

RTalloni, you hit the nail on the head -- brains games are fun and functional. Losing thinking skills as I age is not something I want to deal with, so I was relieved to find there are activities I can do to reduce the likelihood of that happening.

Thanks for the read and your comment.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

I enjoy these activities, too, and was happy to learn the time spent doing them was actually good for my brain.

Thanks for SHARING.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

Very interesting to read and ponder your ideas on improving thinking skills. It's important to consider this perspective rather than just accept the stereotypical approach to aging. Brain games can be a lot of fun, as well as good for us!

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Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

Wow! Voted up and useful. I try to play scrabble with my friends besides playing sudoku whenever I have time. It's good to know that games trained my brain.

Thanks for SHARING.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Ingenira, thank you for your kind words.

It was a great experience going back to school as a middle-aged adult. Initially I was concerned I'd be able to "cut the mustard," but with some modifications of study habits from my teen years I found I was up to the challenge.

Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

wow, maintained a 4.0 average while working, you are in top form despite your age ! I really salute to you for getting a degree at 40 years old.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

T4an, thanks for visiting and glad you found something worthwhile in this hub.

T4an profile image

T4an 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

I love this hub and the comments. Thank you so much for this.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Habee, you must have lived through an emotional roller coaster having had both your mother and grandmother living with Alzheimer's disease. I hope you are able to avoid the same diagnosis.

Thanks for stopping by.

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia

I LOVE brain games! Since my mom and grandmother both had Alzheimer's, I really try to keep my brain on its toes, so to speak. Voted up!

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Hi Gisele, awesome that you volunteer at your son's preschool. The world benefits when we give of ourselves and it is good to know that as individuals we, too, benefit from the act of volunteering. I suspect it as uplifting emotionally as it is intellectually.

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Giselle Maine 5 years ago

These are some great ideas! Thanks for giving such a good range of options. I was heartened to realize that volunteering at a school can help keep the brain sharp - I volunteer at my son's preschool. Not only does it help the brain (something I hadn't realized until I read this hub), but time seems to fly by when having fun!

L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Wilderness, thanks for stopping by. I agree that learning the ropes here at HP and doing the background research needed for hubs helps to keep a mind sharp.

I am jealous of those who are good at Sudoku; I work them now and again, but mainly for the mental exercise.

wilderness profile image

wilderness 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

As one of the over 60 crowd, dementia and Alzheimers is of concern, but not so much the simple slow failure of cognitive abilities.

I stay mentally active with such things as Sudoku, and learning to write on HP has been a tremendous learning experience. The learning curve is steep and there is often research to do when writing hubs - there is always something new to learn.

L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Thanks for the read and the comment, Carozy. I hope future hubs will also prove interesting to you.

carozy profile image

carozy 5 years ago from San Francisco

Great article!

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Zduckman, thanks for the read and the information on Lumosity. I'd almost be afraid to track my progress--what if I don't improve?

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zduckman 5 years ago

There is a great website called Lumosity that has brain exercise can keep trac of your progress as it too....I could feel an ache in my cranium as if sore from a workout

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

cjcarter, what an interesting experiment that was, but it makes sense. Our brains are powerful tools; most of us just don't put that power to its best use.

cjcarter profile image

cjcarter 5 years ago

I heard of a study once that took older men, and placed them in an environment that replicated what their lives would have been like when they were in their early 20s. They wore clothes from that era, read magazines from that era, and listened to radio shows from that era. The study showed that the men started to not only act younger, but their health problems began to decrease and their overall wellbeing improved. Crazy what your mind can influence huh?

L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Temirah, I appreciate your praise and the link. I've worked with older adults throughout my career and have come to understand that saying someone is "old" is like saying that person is obsolete. "Older" is a more apt and preferred term--and as I grow older, I can appreciate the difference of the two terms.

Temirah profile image

Temirah 5 years ago

This is a great hub and I love your writing style - so easy to read and understand. I wonder if, because Western society doesn't value its elders, we automatically believe the 'your brain turns to porridge' message that we're surrounded by, and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Time to change the tide of that message! Your hub is a great place to start. I'll put a link to it in my 10 Ideas for Rules for Life hub.

L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Memories1932, those are both great games to keep thinking skills sharp. I've been thinking of trying sudoku more often. I am not good at it which suggests to me I should do more of it.

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Memories1932 5 years ago

Very informative article. I keep my mind sharp by playing scrabble and chess.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Thanks for the praise, b.Malin. I agree, it is important to remain active to matter our age.

b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 5 years ago

I Loved your Hub L.L. Woodard found it very Informative as well as Inspiring...Even just writing on Hub Pages gives the brain and the mind a Good Mental Workout. It is so important to keep Active. I look forward to following your Hubs.

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

Fay, thanks for the read and the kudos. I believe that if we don't succumb to the myths associated with growing older we can accomplish anything we desire at any point in time.

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Fay Paxton 5 years ago

I really appreciate your articles about remaining focused. This is another bookmark.

up and very useful

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L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City Author

DayLeeWriter, happy to know you found the information useful. It is encouraging to think we aren't destined to become "walking zombies" as we grow older.

DayLeeWriter profile image

DayLeeWriter 5 years ago from Georgia

Great information here! Thanks for the encouraging news that we can remain mentally alert and focused!!!

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