By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President
January is here. The snow is falling while the virus is still rising. More of us are confined largely to our homes than ever. Boredom is a constant companion. Snacking is the national pastime. How will we make it through the months of winter and keep our sanity? The coronavirus pandemic has caused a renewed interest by people of all ages in jigsaw puzzles, board games, crossword puzzles and other old fashioned brain games which require concentration and often analytical skills rather than just random luck. Technology has enabled online solitaire, poker, mah jongg, bridge, and chess to soar in popularity. Though weekly game socializing is now virtual, the kibbutzing still persists. A new Netflix mini-series about an unlikely prodigious young female chess champion in the 1960s called “The Queen’s Gambit” has been watched by over 62 million viewers already and has stimulated sales in chess sets by 125% over last year. Some of these mentally challenging pursuits can be done alone, while others engage family members or online groups of friends or even strangers. Of course video games topped many peoples’ Christmas wish lists in 2020 and whole generations of people as young as preschool age are obsessed with them.
As a mature adult who is a daily sudoku, word jumble, and crossword puzzle fanatic, I appreciate exercising my brain just as I try to work my body to stay physically active. Strategy is essential to brain games. Creativity is rewarded. I marvel at the different approaches people use to win games or solve puzzles. Often your brain has to be nimble to adapt to unforeseen obstacles or opportunities placed by your opponents or by advancing to harder levels of play. We must look for hidden patterns in complex arrangements of jigsaw puzzles, word searches, number games, and jumbles. We use family games as a way to enjoy time with our children and grandchildren while teaching them life lessons : play the game fairly, follow the rules, accept either success or defeat graciously, learn from your mistakes, and above all, keep trying.
Looking for something to do when you are with your aging parent? Older adults can benefit from even short games in many ways. When they are mentally engaged, it strengthens their brains against cognitive decline, reduces stress, can lower blood pressure through laughter, helps them practice fine motor skills and coordination besides social bonding. Games and puzzles are still an option even when someone is living with some cognitive decline, although you must be super flexible with “rules” and where puzzle pieces belong. It is still a great way to spend time together and reminisce. Consider bridge, canasta, scrabble, dominoes, bingo, or make up simple games like “Name That Tune.” Some older adults enjoy playing video games almost as much as their grandchildren!
What exquisite joy to be the first to shout: “Bingo!”, “Check Mate!” or place that last missing piece in the puzzle. Recently I was exhilarated to complete two difficult jigsaw puzzles, but unfortunately the first one came with one extra piece and the second lacked four pieces. I learned another life lesson from those puzzles: there is often no clear-cut solution to a complicated problem, but try to comprehend the big picture and then fill in the details with what you have rather than dwell on the pieces that don’t fit. Instead of complaining about the snow and cold this winter, dust off the old checker board, shuffle the real or virtual cards or tiles, clear the dining room table for a difficult puzzle or board game, and enjoy firing up your brain.