Thanks to the digital revolution, we look for technological solutions to every problem we encounter. So it’s natural that we wonder what computers can do for our loved ones who have Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Studies have shown that computer games can help, specifically games that make use of memory and attention. The best games adapt to the abilities of the person playing, to insure that they get the most appropriate level of challenge. Two such games recommended by researchers are BrainHQ and Brain Age, both of which can help alleviate symptoms in those already diagnosed with dementia.
However, it may not be enough to simply sit down in front of a screen. Research has also shown that these remedies work best when used alongside other treatments. For example, one study found that a computer game used in conjunction with traditional ways of challenging cognitive functioning extended the benefit by 24 weeks longer than use of the computer game alone. Another study found a similar effect when computer use was combined with moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming. Though exercising five or six times per week was best, even participants who exercised once per week demonstrated benefits.
Therefore, seniors should not rely on computer games alone when looking for ways to cope with dementia. Indeed, while such games should be used if they’re available as a supplementary treatment, they’re no substitute for more old-fashioned games that stimulate the senses with bright colors and tangible playing pieces. Further, games that the senior played when they were a child will also have an exceptional benefit, since they’ll stimulate long-term memory and perhaps even have some emotional value.
When playing any game with a dementia patient, be sure to be flexible about the rules. In the earlier stages of the disease, the challenge of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played may be good for seniors. But later on, only the fact that they’re using their brain in some way would be important. As long as the senior is preoccupied and proud of the outcome, whether the game is played “correctly” matters less. Finally, it’s also crucial that the senior choose what game they would like to play, rather than be forced to do something that’s uninteresting or frustrating for them.
Due to their importance in our lives, computers will clearly pay a role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, they should be used alongside, and not in place of, interaction with the non-digital world.