Research has found that living in the digital world has significantly reduced cognitive functioning since the brain has grown accustomed to not thinking too hard for answers. When all answers are at the tips of your fingers, the need for memory hasn’t grown. When was the last time you memorized a phone number? Chances are it was a while ago. With our brains becoming lazy, our memory has been affected. This may be due to the overwhelming amount of information that is available to us out of which it’s hard to pick and choose what to retain. If you want to change this, here are some exercises and games to stimulate brain activity:
Completing crosswords requires you to recall information that has previously been stored in the long-term memory. Therefore, doing crosswords helps you to not only improve cognitive functioning but also keep the early onset of dementia at bay. However, doing crosswords often isn’t a good idea since, if you get too good at it, it doesn’t pose a challenge anymore. Then it doesn’t actually boost cognitive functioning or memory anymore. Crosswords should be done regularly – but not too often.
Sudoku has been in newspapers for years now and it has been proven to seriously help your working memory. In order to finish the puzzle, you need to keep in mind the numbers along with all the rules of the game. This makes sure that your brain is constantly working and you are always tapping into your working memory. However, like with crosswords, getting too good at Sudoku will make it unhelpful in the long-run.
One of the most common board games, Scrabble forces you to pull out from your vocabulary – mostly the passive vocabulary which is stored in the long-term memory while constantly calculating and strategizing to get the most points. This way, it definitely boosts cognitive functioning while helping memory.
Boggle, like Scrabble, is based on words. But, unlike Scrabble, it is more a word search game based on memory. Trying to get the most uncommon words to get the most points requires you to tap into the passive vocabulary again and, therefore, the long-term memory. Since it is played against the timer, Boggle also helps with making you more attentive.
Concentration is one of the most common memory boosting games. It can be played with cards (saying that spades and clubs are pairs, and hearts and diamonds are pairs) and you have to find the pairs. The easy way is just overturning them in straight lines. If the pair that’s overturned is wrong, both cards have to be faced down again. In this game, memorizing the positions of specific cards is very important. This greatly boosts both memory and focus.
6. Suitcase Game
The suitcase game is one in which a category is chosen and one player says one item that they are putting in a suitcase from that category. The next player has to mention that item and add another item to it. For example, if the category “fruits” is chosen, you may say oranges, the next person will say oranges, lemons, the next person will say: oranges, lemons, strawberries and so on. This really helps the working memory and attention spans.
Atlas is where you need to name a place with the last letter of the previous place named. For example, if the person before you says Nepal, you have to give the name of a place starting with L (e.g. Ladakh). This bridges the gap between working memory and long-term memory.
8. Tray Game
The Tray Game is a very popular game. It involves laying out items on a tray and allowing you time to memorize the items. The tray is then covered and you need to name as many as you can remember. This strengthens your ability to retain information in the short-term memory and the working memory.
Jigsaw puzzles help short-term memory greatly since they require you to intake and retain several small details for immediate use: typically colours and shapes. By putting this information in the short-term memory, it becomes easily accessible making it easier to put the puzzle together. It has also been proven that the higher the level of difficulty, the better the feeling when you finish since it releases dopamine, the happiness hormone.
Hangman requires you to use your long-term memory and your working memory in order to keep guessing and pulling what you know to the forefront. This way, although maybe not as effective, Hangman still exercises your brain, recharging memory.
Mnemonics are psychologically proven to be completely effective in helping memory. Mnemonics help make information easy to remember. One of the best ways to remember, using mnemonics, is creating a story. This particularly works in the case of grocery lists: the more detail, the better since you’re cementing the memory further and, therefore, storing it for long.
12. Name, Place, Animal, Thing…
As children, all of us have played this game where four columns need to be filled starting with the same letter. This is particularly challenging because you need four separate sets to recall. What makes memory work harder is that the game is time-bound.
13. Rebus Puzzle
A rebus puzzle is a puzzle consisting of colours, letters, numbers etc, all of which are clues to the answer. E.g. the phrase “too bad” may be encrypted in a rebus puzzle as BAD BAD (two bad = too bad). It relies on previous knowledge of sayings and proverbs. It, definitely, makes you think and engages your brain and is effective in improving memory.
Chess stimulates both short-term memory (in the case of newer players or infrequent players) and long-term memory (in the case of professionals) since it requires a great amount of strategizing and analysis of the board to plan your next move. This exercises your brain greatly and is a very good way of improving your memory.
Literature is a game in which four to eight players distribute one deck of cards among themselves. Each suit is then divided into a Major (9-Ace – worth 2 points) and a Minor (2-8 – worth 1 point) set. The idea is that players don’t know which cards their own teammates have. This game is heavily reliant on memory – you need to know what cards everyone has. It improves focus and forces you to pay close attention.
Cluedo is a detective board game which involves finding out who committed the murder, in which room in the mansion, and with which weapon. In Cluedo, the players have cards distributed among them. They, then, have to solve the mystery. Players may announce their suspicions to the rest of the group and, if they name a card possessed by one of the players, the player is required to show that card. This game stimulates the brain through anticipated excitement.
17. Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard, like Cluedo, is a detective game but requires all the players to try to catch Mr X – the culprit. However, while the players move around the board using various modes of transportation, Mr X’s location isn’t known until certain moves are made. Once the location of Mr X is revealed, the other players can begin strategizing and moving towards his location. This way the game uses players’ short-term as well as working memory as they need to remember where Mr X was and where he can go from his position on the board.
QuizUp is an online quiz game, which can be downloaded onto your handheld device. QuizUp has a large variety of topics on which there are quizzes and requires you to exercise your memory to get the answers. All the questions offer multiple choice and have varying levels of difficulty. They are timed and you play against someone else who’s playing from somewhere in the world. Therefore, QuizUp stimulates your brain and requires you to pull information out from the long-term memory.
19. Brain Age
Brain Age is also a game for the Nintendo DS which tests, not only your memory, but also other cognitive skills. The memory test in Brain Age involves you receiving a list of 30 four-letter words with limited time to memorize and then write out as many as you remember. This works on both sensory and short-term memory – strengthening both since the words you memorize towards the end are stored in sensory memory.
20. Video Games
Video games, in general, may not help improve your memory, but certain video games which place you in unfamiliar environments and require you to react to stimuli improve your working memory since you need to think on your feet. While all video games aren’t the best idea – a lot of them can help cognitive functioning and memory.