Memory Card Games for Alzheimer's & Dementia Patients

Main Body Space

Memory Games for the Elderly
Concentration, also known as Memory, Pelmanism, Shinkei-suijaku, Pexeso or simply Pairs, is a well known card game that is often seen in quiz shows and in educational programs. In the basic form, cards are laid face down on a surface and two cards are flipped face up over each turn. The object of the game is to turn over pairs of matching cards. Concentration can be played with any number of players or as alone.

For adults, age appropriate forms of memory games are now available that can be used for memory improvement. Research results announced in the December 2008 issue of Psychology and Aging1, by researchers at the University of Illinois psychology department has shown that a group of older adults who played the strategic video game Rise of Nations displayed improved cognitive functions. According to Professor Arthur Kramer, one of the researchers, “This is one mode in which older people can stay mentally fit, cognitively fit.”

For people with dementia, memory jogging card games can be used as brain exercise tools to help recollection, concentration and hand-eye coordination. Used in a group setting, these games can also help with socializing, and conversation starters. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

No Memory Loss to Early Stage Memory Loss

  • Trivial Pursuit or any other trivia board game
  • Card Games - Anticipating other players’ moves and strategizing one’s own are ways to improve memory.
  • “Out of Sight” – One player looks around the room and then closes his or her eyes. The other players ask a question regarding something in the room. What color were the curtains? What magazine was on the coffee table?
  • “The Story” - Place a random group of objects on a table. The first person picks up an object and creates a sentence for a story. The second person picks up another object and builds on to the story with his or her own sentence. Once all the objects have been used, they’re removed from sight and players try to remember the entire story.
  • Gossips – A 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 objective is for players to find 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.
  • What’s Mi sing? – A card game featuring pairs of images – one with a complete image and the other with missing features. The object is to identify what is different in the second image. Depending on the level of the player, a caregiver can draw the player’s attention to the missing parts with helpful hints – a way for caregivers and family members to also interact with the player in a supportive and loving way.

Mid to Advanced Memory Loss

  • Trivial Pursuit or any other trivia board game
  • Card Games - Anticipating other players’ moves and strategizing one’s own are ways to improve memory.
  • Matching games – These could also be card games in which some form of matching of the cards is involved. Examples here would be age appropriate forms of “Go Fish” and the newer game “MatchMate”.

Electronic versions of these games are now also available for local play on some form of console or TV or online on the web. Your favorite search engine can give you the address to a number of them

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?


  1. Basak et al, “Can training in a real-time strategy video game attenuate cognitive decline in older adults?” Psychology and Aging, Vol. 23(4), Dec 2008, 765-777.

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