An estimated 5 million people in America are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (Matthews, et al. 2018). Oftentimes, the focus on Alzheimer’s revolves around the losses a person is experiencing. Alzheimer’s affects memory, and the result is a slow and gradual decline in a person’s ability to participate in work, activities, and, eventually, self-care. While a cure for Alzheimer’s does not exist, there has been much research focused on brain games to preserve cognitive health. Many of these brain games use computers and video games aimed at improving memory and attention.

As today’s generation of older adults has not grown up with computers, the researchers wanted to see if they could teach persons with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s how to play a tile game in a group. Hisss™ is an interactive multi-player tile game with a puzzle component. The purpose of the game is to create a snake by matching like-colored tiles together. The game tiles are either a head, a body segment, or a tail. The player’s turn consists of drawing a tile from a face-down pile and then trying to connect the tiles to create a snake. The person who completes the snake receives the points.

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Two researchers met with the players at an adult day center and played twice a week for ten weeks. The results indicated players were able to learn how to play the tile placement game and were able to maintain this ability over time. Also, over time, players increased in their ability to match tiles correctly. By the end of ten weeks, they had learned how to play the game, the researchers were able to increase the game difficulty level by including more colored tiles, and the researchers were only providing minimal guidance.

The researchers also found players became more social each week. Natural conversation occurred as a result of playing the game. Players began to congratulate each other when they completed a snake, and they encouraged each other to do well. They reminded each other whose turn it was and began to tell their opponents to hurry up because they wanted their turn. The researchers also noticed that as the players’ placement accuracy increased, the players developed a friendly competition. They played to win and experienced a sense of accomplishment when they completed a snake. Interestingly, the game provided the players an opportunity to help each other. When a player was unable to figure out where to place a tile, oftentimes the other players would remind them of the rules and assist in tile placement. By the end of the ten weeks, the players were coming to the card table before the researchers arrived, asking to play additional rounds, and sharing stories about their lives.

Playing games is a social activity learned in childhood. For persons with Alzheimer’s playing games gave them a sense of normalcy and boosted their self-confidence. They were able to utilize their social skills to learn how to play the game. The game gave them the opportunity to help others and share their new knowledge in playing. The opportunity to learn, even on a small scale, and help others is often denied to persons with Alzheimer’s. Playing games is a normal activity to be shared with friends, and persons with Alzheimer’s should be encouraged to enjoy this experience.

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These findings are described in the article entitled Individuals with Alzheimer’s learn to play a tile placement game: Results of a pilot study: Innovative practice, and Social engagement during game play in persons with Alzheimer’s: Innovative Practice, both recently published in the journal Dementia.

References:

  1. Matthews, K. A., Xu, W., Gaglioti, A. H., Holt, J. B., Croft, J. B., Mack, D., & McGuire, L. C. (2018). Racial and ethnic estimates of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the United States (2015–2060) in adults aged≥ 65 years. Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

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About The Author

Helen Miltiades PhD, is professor and director of the Gerontology Program at California State University, Fresno. She is currently involved in a multi-year study funded by the California Department of Social Services to evaluate training programs for Adult Protective Services. She is faculty director in a project integrating palliative care education into college curriculum led by the California State University Institute for Palliative Care and funded by the California Health Care Foundation.