What’s Working: Games

(Part of a series about things that are going right in my mom’s dementia journey)

When my child was little, I stumbled upon a book at a library book sale called Games for Math. It turned out to be one of a series by Peggy Kaye: Games for Reading, Games for Writing, etc. Kaye is a specialist who designs wildly creative ways to help youngsters learn.

What a treasure! I felt like I had struck gold. My child hated worksheets and practice problems but loved games. We spent many happy hours literally playing with math concepts. A decade or so later, she is studying math at Georgia Tech. Oh yes, I believe in the power of play.

I joke that I’m going to write a book called Games for Dementia. (Alternate title: Boredom: The Silent Killer). I mean, somebody should. Because even when a person can’t play by the rules of everyday life, they can still play. Just as young children’s brains develop through creative play, older adult brains can stay active well into dementia, if someone is willing to engage them.

My mom loves card games. She was an avid Bridge player for decades. I don’t play Bridge, but we like to play Battle, and my sister and cousin challenge her to games of double solitaire. Of course, Mom cheats, but nobody cares. She doesn’t know she’s cheating. She just plays by the rules as she remembers them, and her family goes along. The point is that she’s thinking, playing, strategizing — using the brain she still has. And having fun doing it.

Since she loves cards so much, I decided to try her on Quiddler, a word game one of my friends introduced me to. It has complicated rules for multiple players, but I have learned to adapt any game to a child’s (or an adult’s) level of ability.

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For Mom, I turned Quiddler into a solitaire game. We build a triangle of cards, starting with one at the top, then two on that, three below, and so on until we have seven cards across the bottom. (This is based on a game we called “Thirteens” when I was a kid, where you try to find pairs of cards that add up to 13.) We make words with any “open” cards, and when we’re stumped, we turn over a new card from the deck.

I wasn’t sure how well this would go. Mom gave up crossword puzzles a few years ago, when the clues became confusing. I was afraid a word game would be too hard for her, but she took to it right away.

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We can spread out the game on my dining room table, or throw the cards into my purse and take them along to a diner or coffee shop to play while we’re waiting for our order. Mom loves it. I’m always amazed at the words she comes up with.

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It’s fun to watch her eyes scan the table and discover a new word — often one that I haven’t noticed yet. She’s still so bright, so alive. Parts of her brain are definitely dying, but large parts remain. She can still learn a new game; she can still think. She’s losing brain cells, but retaining her wise, playful mind. There’s a lesson in that — a lesson for me, a game for her.

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4 thoughts on “What’s Working: Games

  1. Dear Carolyn, I wish you would write that book, and I will stock them at my office and help you with marketing! It would be a wonderful support for so many people less creative than you, but equally in need of this idea! I have so much respect for how you are coping with the challenges of being a caregiver! Much love to you and June!

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