A few months ago, I started going to events hosted by the North Shore Gamers. This is a group of adults of all ages who enjoy playing board games.

Many of the games we play are new games, but I have also seen some of the old standards that I remember from my youth. The gaming sessions are fun and challenging. I meet new people and learn new games. Sometimes I win, many times I lose. Winning and losing aren’t so important to me. I have a lot of fun every time I play. 

As we age, we need to continue challenging our brains on a regular basis. I have seen recommendations that we should plan at least one hour a day to do something that challenges our brain. This could be learning to play an instrument, learning a new language or playing a game that requires us to think in order to win.

Games such as Scrabble are good because they help us build and/or retain our vocabulary. Games such as Yahtzee or sudoku help us maintain our ability to use numbers. Both types of game are considered cognitive exercises. Studies have found that people who regularly participate in cognitive exercises are less likely to develop dementia.

Another benefit of playing board games is the social interaction that we enjoy during the game. Whether you are playing with family and friends or with a new group of people that you met five minutes ago, you will interact with them and (hopefully) enjoy their company. With senior isolation issues becoming a serious health concern for our elder community, getting together over a game of Monopoly can help ease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

I was surprised to learn that more seniors are starting to play video games and that there are significant benefits to this trend.

Researchers from the University of Chicago learned that seniors who play computer games can have better balance than those who do. At the study’s conclusion, video game players were able to stand from a seated position and walk faster than nonplayers.

Despite what our mothers told us when we were kids, watching a video monitor may actually improve a person’s vision. An Ontario study showed that older adults with cataracts may improve their vision when they play fast-paced games that cause rapid eye movement and require lots of attention. They also found that quick games can also cause an increase in adrenaline and dopamine, which is healthy for the brain. 

A study from East Carolina University discovered that video games may help lessen depression and anxiety. In addition, video games can lessen stress and help a person relax.

A study in Montreal split healthy adults ages 55-75 into three test groups. The first group was asked to play video games for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The second group was given piano lessons at the same frequency as the game players. The third group was not given a special task to do.

After six months, the video game players had increases of gray matter in several areas of their brains and improvement in their short-term memories. The piano playing group saw increases in their gray matter, but not as significant as the game players. The group that did not have a special task were all found to have some level of atrophy in their brain compared to six months earlier.

Game playing can be fun, and it can be healthful.

More information on the North Shore Gamers group can be found online at www.meetup.com/NorthShoreGamers. Maybe I’ll see you at a future gaming event.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging.