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Memory Card Games for Alzheimer's & Dementia Patients

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:34am

Mem . o . ry:

1. a: the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms

—Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11 th ed.

Memory is a process that we take for granted when it comes naturally, just like other essential functions like we never think about, such as seeing, hearing and smelling. We cruise along on autopilot until tragedy or illness impairs one of these precious gifts. Then, in a moment, our lives can be turned inside out. It’s rarely a singular effect; for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, their loved ones suffer the effects of this loss, too.

Developing Games to Combat Memory Loss

I recently wrote about the memory jogging puzzles that I developed for dementia patients. I knew I was on the right track the first time I took the puzzles with the Norman Rockwell images to an Assisted Living Center with an Alzheimer’s Unit to show them to the residents. It was amazing to watch the residents study the images, the men gently touching the images as if they personally knew the people in the covers from The Saturday Evening Post. The images stirred their emotions and prompted long-buried memories. Observing the residents closely, I felt inspiration strike again. Would the residents benefit from exposure to the same images, but in a different activity?

The activity directors who advised me when I designed the puzzles had said I should think of activities that young children enjoy, but find a way to make them age-appropriate, such as with an adult theme. On another trip to test my memory jogging puzzles, I brought along a few sample cards with the same Norman Rockwell images, just to see whether the residents would be interested. I’d been told that it would be best to keep the sessions no longer than a half hour because the residents get tired and they lose interest. But a funny thing happened on that visit: the residents didn’t get tired and lose interest—they had fun and they were excited. So was I!

Introducing the cards, I worked with Florence, a resident in her nineties who was very detail-oriented and quick to find matching cards. We played with the cards face up. At one point Florence picked up one of the cards and brought it to her face for closer inspection. When I asked her what she saw, she pointed to a dark area, calling it “the shadow.” Then Florence told me that she was blind in one eye and had poor vision in the other. I couldn’t believe it! She had been so engaged in our game up to that point that I never would have known she had a problem if she hadn’t mentioned it. Even earlier in my visit, when we were working on the puzzles, she had no problems. That’s when I realized: the images on the puzzles were larger, and the prototype cards were the size of regular playing cards.

After working with Florence, I decided to develop oversized cards. At 3.5 x 5", the images would be large and detailed. Florence’s comment about the shadow also made me realize that there had to be separation between the colors so that they would be distinct once they were printed.

MatchMate: Early, Mid & Advanced Memory Loss

I developed the card game MatchMate as a memory activity and brain exercise game that engages the players’ emotional and recollection memory as well as their problem-solving skills. It’s easy to play, the rules being similar to “Go Fish.” But it differs in a couple of key ways. First, the themes are age-appropriate. The Norman Rockwell images from The Saturday Evening Post covers engage the elderly person, prompting memories and reminiscence. Second, the images tell a story, helping loved ones interact with the elderly player, by encouraging conversation.

Both MatchMate and What’s Mis ing? encourage success, with their engaging images and face-up playing strategy. The problem with other games of concentration is that they are played with the cards face down, which can cause feelings of failure and frustration when residents forget what they’re looking for. If residents find an activity difficult and think they can’t do it, sometimes they won’t even try. MatchMate and What’s Mis ing? are easy, non-intimidating activities. To assure success I start with two pairs, then gradually add more cards. That way the players enjoy a feeling of success from the beginning and will continue to play. Fewer cards equals more success and less frustration—and most importantly, more smiles!

What’s Mis ing? For Early Stage Memory Loss

What’s Mis ing? requires the caregiver or family member to draw the player’s attention to different items in the image and talk about them. There are six image sets with three cards per set: one card with a full image; a second card with something missing from the image; and a third card showing the missing item. The game is more challenging than MatchMate, but it uses the same images for memory recollection and requires the player to use problem-solving skills to complete the task, which is discovering what’s missing from the images. What’s Mis ing? is played face up also. It’s ideal for helping seniors with early-stage memory loss to strengthen their memory skills, but it may be too difficult for others with more advanced memory loss. Although the game is simple, it sometimes takes players a few moments to decide what matches or is missing in the image, and sometimes they need hints. This is fun way for caregivers and family members to interact with the player in a loving, supportive role.

Gossips: No Memory Loss to Early Stage Memory Loss

For seniors with no memory loss to those in the early stages of dementia, I developed a new memory and concentration card game, which features images from The Saturday Evening Post cover dated March 6, 1948, entitled “Gossips.” This famous cover has fun image pairs of men and women gossiping. The card game is similar to MatchMate, where players must find the matching card. The hilarious images feature similarities that encourage the players to watch for detail, and draw on their memory and problem-solving skills to match the cards. With fifteen different pairs showcasing hairdos, hats, caps and other great fashions from that era, the game also encourages conversation and reminiscing.

All three of these memory card games are great brain exercises, in addition to being wonderful for players’ memory recollection, concentration and problem-solving skills, and hand-eye coordination. The images from The Saturday Evening Post covers, with their power to prompt reminiscing, help make both games the best memory activities and brain exercises on the market.

I designed these games to meet the needs of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I remain committed to meeting those needs. If I find something isn’t working, I will change it. If you are looking for beneficial memory and brain exercise activities that your elderly residents or loved ones will enjoy, MatchMate, What’s Mis ing? and Gossips are exactly what you need.

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