Games to play with someone who has Alzheimer’s
January 20, 2022 1:59 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for ideas for games I can play with my mom who has Alzheimer’s.

My mom is 83, has Alzheimer’s, and has been in assisted living for 6 months. When I visit her I like to bring some activities we can do together. We have fun playing Boggle and Scrabble, and also adult coloring with colored pencils. She’s very good at Boggle and Scrabble but I need to remind her of the rules every time it’s her turn or we start a new round. That’s ok—it is what it is!

I’m looking for some new ideas for 2-person games (not crafts) we can play together that are simple but still for adults. She will not do activities if she thinks they’re too much like kids games. (No Go Fish, for example)There isn’t enough table space in her room for jigsaw puzzles or games that need lots of space (we usually play sitting on her bed). She prefers games with actual pieces rather than tablet/phone games.

We both love word games, but I’m open to whatever. I don’t mind buying new games for us. The directions should be simple enough that I can easily remind her of them many times during the game, and with enough skill involved that it isn’t too easy. No memory games like Concentration, for obvious reasons.

Any ideas?
posted by bookmammal to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Bananagrams as a fun Scrabble alternative
posted by Text TK at 2:20 PM on January 20, 2022 [5 favorites]

Scrabble Slam might be fun. Instead of little fiddly tiles it's nice big cards with the letters on. The gameplay is to build 4 letter words and keep stacking letters on top of the ones before to create new 4 letter words. I think the intention of the game is for very fast play (hence the slam), but that's not necessary. Playing slow it's just a nice casual word ladder game.
posted by phunniemee at 2:23 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the games she grew up playing is probably your best bet. Those memories tend to hold on longer, but this is not an absolute rule. If you can think of games that involve music - maybe name that tune, music memories from childhood & early adulthood seem to be easier to access for lots of people with dementia.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 2:24 PM on January 20, 2022 [14 favorites]

This may not be what you're looking for, but I've had a good time playing a version of "name that tune" with someone who had trouble keeping track of new things. There were always more than two of us, so the young people would trade off on being the host or a contestant. It looks like there are some automated versions that might work for two, but I haven't tried them.
posted by eotvos at 2:27 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Watching soothing landscape videos on YouTube and trying to guess the location worked for a while.
posted by wnissen at 2:37 PM on January 20, 2022

Doing a crossword puzzle together? A large print version makes it easier for both people to see what's happening and you can control how much you contribute so it feels balanced and fun for her.
posted by metahawk at 2:38 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Gin rummy is usually seen as an adult game. It helps if you can remember what was played but you don't have to.

Solitaire where you personally handle the cards but the two of you work together to decide what to play where. There are lots of variations of solitaire that are more of less complicated. Probably easiest to stick to versions that are familiar so she doesn't have to remember the rules.
posted by metahawk at 2:41 PM on January 20, 2022

Find a trivial pursuit version from her time; she'll know lots of answers. Bonus; she may share stories.
posted by theora55 at 2:48 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

What about Yahtzee or Farkle? Otherwise, would checkers or backgammon be a good fit?
posted by happy_cat at 2:51 PM on January 20, 2022

Seconding Farkle or 10,000 (dice game that's not branded as Farkle, but similar)



Uno? Connect 4? Sorry or Parcheesi (similar games, but Sorry is a bit more geared to kids)?

You might look into cooperative games, where you're playing together toward a common goal. I don't have a recommendation, but they're getting more popular.
posted by hydra77 at 3:36 PM on January 20, 2022

I would look for two criteria:

1. Games that don't require short term memory.

2. Games your mother knew throughout her life.

Boggle, Scrabble, Crossword Puzzles, Parcheesi and Backgammon are games that don't require any short term memory. (When I was in high school, I was able to enjoy backgammon with friends even when we had, uh, essentially deactivated our short term memories. It didn't matter. You just looked at the board and the dice and played.)

I think a game like Gin Rummy -- which requires planning and keeping track of which cards have played -- could be difficult. But maybe not -- most of it is visible on the board.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 4:04 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding Uno; my grandmother and I had a good time playing that as her dementia progressed.

Kings in the Corner might be good too; it's a lot like solitaire but for two or more players.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 4:47 PM on January 20, 2022

Seconding bananagrams. All you need is a flat surface and the tiles and the rules are straightforward (and extremely natural for someone who has played scrabble, it's basically "you make your own scrabble board with your tiles").
posted by true at 4:50 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

A variation on Scrabble is Upwords; because you can stack tiles on previous words, and the scoring is different, it might feel like enough of a change to make a good alternative.

Other ideas... mahjong? Or did she ever learn cribbage? (I wouldn't recommend trying to teach her now, but if she remembers how to play it, it might work.) Dominos? Monopoly, if it's a game she enjoys, since she probably already knows how to play it. Maybe Quirkle. There's a Word Yahtzee game out there; if you can find the dice for it, printable score sheets can be found online.

If she retains a sense of humor, she might enjoy one of the many card game variations which range from very naughty to very PG that play along the lines of Apples to Apples, Jar of Pickles, or Cards Against Humanity. (Yes, there is apparently even a family-friendly CAH.) For two player, you could play an adaption that works by using a turned-up card just drawn from the top of the that deck, with a "pretend" third player that always votes for themselves drawing a random card to play, while neither of the real players are allowed to vote for themselves, so there's always a tie-breaker. (I'm not explaining that very well, but it works pretty well in practice.)
posted by stormyteal at 4:56 PM on January 20, 2022

My favorite job ever was a one that required just playing card and board games with folks with dementia for half an hour every day. I love this question!

If you can play on her nightstand or another flat space, Jenga is really fun and doesn't require too much concentration. For more fun you could add questions to ask each other or short jokes on them, they're easy to write on. For less challenge, just make a shorter tower.

My very favourite word game is Scattergories. The rules are really simple and you can always throw out the timer element--just keep going until you get to some arbitrary number, or until you fill the paper, etc.

Uno is fun, but what's really fun is Uno Attack. The draw pile goes in a little plastic box, and instead of drawing a card, you press a button and a random number of cards comes out.

War/Slap-type card games. ERS is a good one, because you only have to keep track of whether it's an Ace or face card, nothing else matters. You can just pick one of the slap rules to keep it simple,or skip slaps entirely. A little more complex/feels less young than Slapjack.
posted by assenav at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

Alzheimer's Dementia (AD) is characteristic for the memory loss which is reverse of what most people experience: recent memories are gone, but the oldest memories (childhood, early adulthood) often are robust.

Also, short term memory (STM, aka working memory) is often fairly well preserved, but transfer of STM into LTM (long term memory) is usually extremely poor. I mention this because many non-psychologists don't realize that "LTM" is pretty short - memories that persist beyond about 10-15 second are generally only there due to STM transfer to LTM.

TL;DR: I'm not sure any common games would work well; possibly games which ask for historical material (e.g. Trivial Pursuit, if the questions are from mom's era?).

I wonder if you could make up a game of bringing OLD photos - and make it more like a conversation: "who is that?" "Oh, when did you meet them?" etc.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:53 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I recently got a new game called "Wordsmithery". It comes with sets of cards with words and definitions.

Player A take the first card in the deck and reads a word to Player B. Player B tries to define the word, with the correct definition getting 2 points. If the definition is wrong, Player A then reads from the card three possible answers of what the definition could be. Player B tries to pick the right definition, with the correct choice getting 1 point.

Then you switch. And whoever gets to 10 points first, wins the game.
posted by NotLost at 6:07 PM on January 20, 2022

Response by poster: So many good suggestions—thank you! I have ordered Bananagrams and Yahtze—and have made a list of some others for later on. I’m looking forward to adding some new activities to our visits!
posted by bookmammal at 6:19 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was hoping to do something similar, at retirement communities. Then COVID hit, so no.

But in modern games I considered, the things I thought would work were suggestions, as to what a player's options were, (Carcassone), and games that were similar to something they might remember, (Ingenious has enough similarities to Dominoes, I thought it would work). But both are pretty vicious at 2 players, so let me think more.
posted by Windopaene at 6:59 PM on January 20, 2022

Tenzee! Play a few quick rounds as a warm-up for a longer game of something else.

Jenga or some other type of stacking game?

+1 to name that tune or anything to do with musical memories.
posted by Text TK at 8:14 PM on January 20, 2022

Fluxx is a card game that comes in many varieties and its gimmick is that the rules change as you play it. So you would have the same challenge as each other!
posted by Mizu at 10:36 PM on January 20, 2022

I play cribbage with an elderly friend and it works well. But only do this if she played when she was younger.
posted by eleslie at 5:49 AM on January 21, 2022

Definitely suggest games they have a history with (ask!), but I've had success with Cribbage, Gin, Double Solitaire and Mille Bornes. Another trick with simpler kids games like Go Fish is to actually have a child play too. In my experience kids will happily adapt to the teacher/cajoler temporarily relieving you of those duties.
posted by notpeter at 9:09 AM on January 21, 2022

Try skipbo. I taught my mother how to play it after she retired and she really enjoys it.

Bananagrams is also a favorite with my mom- glad to see you ordered it. We learned how to play bananagrams during the pandemic and now my mom hosts virtual games weekly with family or friends.
posted by dearadeline at 3:55 PM on January 21, 2022

Gin. Gin rummy. It is an old school card game. My mom had Alzheimers and we played it for hours. It never failed to keep her happy.
posted by Oyéah at 5:59 PM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

« Older Do you hear "Attention -- Bakery Department -- 2...   |   Collaborative Playstation 4 games Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.