Memory Decline at 30 Is Real—Play These Brain Games Daily
Want to know a scary fact? A 60-year-old brain takes in information two to three times slower than a 20-year-old brain. Want to know an even scarier fact? Michael Merzenich, PhD, a professor in the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at the University of California at San Francisco, says that this inevitable decline begins before the age of 30.
Before you become totally overwhelmed by that bleak outlook, let us remind you that it’s never too late to learn new (brain) tricks. It’s really all about developing techniques that keep your mind active and your attention focused on a regular basis, such as playing games to teach your mind techniques that help boost memory generation and retention. While it’s awesome that there is a plethora of apps available for brain training (Lumosity is our fave), we selected games that you could play even if you were stranded on a desert island. Read on and kiss those premature “senior moments” goodbye.
This is the ultimate road trip game. Someone begins by saying a sentence, such as “the donkey had furry ears.” The next person repeats the previous player’s sentence and then adds his or her own. (e.g., “The donkey had furry ears. All the animals loved to pet the donkey’s furry ears.”) And so on and so forth. Keep going until someone can’t remember the full story. Feel free to play with as many people as you’d like. The more people, the harder it is.
This classic is an oldie but a goodie. Grab a friend or sit solo. All you need is a pack of playing cards. The object of the game is to collect as many pairs as you can. Shuffle the cards and then lay them all out flat, face down in a grid on a flat surface. Players take turns flipping over two cards each—the goal being to remember where all of the pairs are located and match them up before your opponent. Pro memory players often associate the location of each overturned card with an object or short story. To take this game from beginner level to intermediate/advanced, only allow matches to be made when both rank and color are the same (e.g., the Queen of Hearts and the Queen of Diamonds).
Play Pictionary, Charades, or any social game that encourages full-blown laughing attacks. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, “Laughter seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely.” Essentially, laughing makes it easier for things to stick to your memory. So try your best not to take life too seriously. Adding a few funny quotes, photos, or memorabilia to your workspace, for example, will help lighten the mood and keep your mind elastic.
Rather than pry plastic, red body organs from the crevices of a board game, practice mentally placing foreign objects on different parts of your own body. Try to memorize a list of 20 random objects. In order to make those items really stick in your brain, mentally place each object on a distinct part of your body. For example, when you hear the words red whistle, tweezers, and beach ball, you can think the red whistle is on your nose, the tweezers are on your knee, and the beach ball is under your foot. Placing these items, even mentally, on various parts of your body puts them into context and greatly improves your chance of recalling them after a short period of time.
Jenga is a household favorite, but we think this addictive game should be in every dorm room and 20-something apartment as well. The game consists of 54 wooden blocks, arranged in a tower. The object of the game is to push the blocks out of the structure one at a time and then rebalance them on the top of the tower. If you move more than one piece at a time, your turn is over. If you bulldoze the entire tower, you lose. Remembering which blocks are loose and which blocks affect others is a great way to exercise your memory because during each turn you are relating the individual parts to a greater whole. Like in Reverse Operator, linking disparate objects to a greater whole helps with short-term memory.
Duke neurobiology professor Lawrence C. Katz, PhD, and Manning Rubin outline 83 “neurobic” exercises in their book, Keep Your Brain Alive. Katz and Rubin explore ways to turn everyday tasks, like brushing your teeth, into training experiences that engage the senses in different ways. For example, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand or hold the phone next to your other ear.
Do you know of an awesome memory game? Share your favorite old school games and memory apps below!