Study finds board games may help prevent cognitive decline

A new study has found that playing board games has some major benefits.

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Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom recently assessed 1,091 participants who were part of the decades-long study Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. Participants in that study had their mental and cognitive capacities evaluated when they turned 11 in 1947 and again at ages 70, 73, 76 and 79. To evaluate their cognitive functions, 14 standardized cognitive tests were used, the new study published in The Journals of Gerontology stated.

“Playing analog games may be associated with better cognitive function but, to date, these studies have not had extensive longitudinal follow-up,” said authors Drew Altschul, from the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, and professor Ian Deary, the director of the Edinburgh Lothian Birth Cohorts. “Our goal was to examine the association between playing games and change in cognitive function from age 11 to age 70, and from age 70 to 79.”

Researchers asked participants how often they played board games, crossword puzzles, cards, bingo or chess at ages 70 and 76. Participants responded with, "Every day or about every day," "Several times a week," "Several times a month," "Several times a year" or "Less than once a year/never."

The study was also controlled for factors such as education, sex, activity levels, health issues and early life cognitive function. The results found that more board game-playing led to increased cognitive functioning at age 70, controlling for cognitive ability at age 11.

Researchers found an association between playing more games between ages 70 and 79 meant less general cognitive decline in that range, specifically with memory ability. The study also found an association with increased game play and slow decline of cognitive speed when playing between ages 70 and 76.

"These latest findings add to evidence that being more engaged in activities during the life course might be associated with better thinking skills in later life," said Altschul, according to Medical News Today. "For those in their 70s or beyond, another message seems to be that playing non-digital games may be a positive behavior in terms of reducing cognitive decline."

Deary echoed his co-author’s assessment, but noted more research needs to be done with specific analog game play.

"It would be good to find out if some of these games are more potent than others,” he said. “We also point out that several other things are related to better cognitive aging, such as being physically fit and not smoking."

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