People who play board games and BINGO in their 70s stand a better chance of staying mentally sharp

People who regularly play non-digital games such as Bingo, chess, cards or crosswords in their 70s could enjoy better cognitive ability later in life, finds study. 

Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh found that those who routinely played the games scored better on memory and thinking tests than non-players.   

The team tested 1000 people aged 70 for memory, problem solving, thinking speed and general thinking ability – the same people were tested every three years until they reached 79.

People who increased game playing from ages 70 to 76 were more likely to maintain certain thinking skills as they grew older.

The study also found that a behaviour change in later life could still make a difference.  

Woman taking care of elderly woman doing crossword puzzle (stock)

Woman taking care of elderly woman doing crossword puzzle (stock)

The group were also asked how often they played games like cards, chess, bingo or crosswords from the age of 70.

Using a statistical model the researchers analysed the correlation between intelligence and game play, taking into account an intelligence test taken by the participants when they were 11 years old and factors such as their lifestyle, education, activity and socio-economic status. 

People who increased game playing in later years were found to have experienced less decline in thinking skills in their seventies – particularly in memory function and thinking speed.

Dr Drew Altschul, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, said: ‘These latest findings add to evidence that being more engaged in activities during the life course might be associated with better thinking skills in later life.

‘For those in their 70s or beyond, another message seems to be that playing non-digital games may be a positive behaviour in terms of reducing cognitive decline.’

Researchers say the findings help to better understand what kinds of lifestyles and behaviours might be associated with better outcomes for cognitive health in later life.

The study may also help people make decisions about how best to protect their thinking skills as they age. 

Professor Ian Deary, Director of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE), said: ‘We and others are narrowing down the sorts of activities that might help to keep people sharp in older age.

‘In our Lothian sample, it’s not just general intellectual and social activity, it seems; it is something in this group of games that has this small but detectable association with better cognitive ageing.

The team tested 1000 people aged 70 for memory, problem solving, thinking speed and general thinking ability

 The team tested 1000 people aged 70 for memory, problem solving, thinking speed and general thinking ability

‘It’d be good to find out if some of these games are more potent than others. We also point out that several other things are related to better cognitive ageing, such as being physically fit and not smoking.’

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: ‘Even though some people’s thinking skills can decline as we get older, this research is further evidence that it doesn’t have to be inevitable.

‘The connection between playing board games and other non-digital games later in life and sharper thinking and memory skills adds to what we know about steps we can take to protect our cognitive health, including not drinking excess alcohol, being active and eating a healthy diet.’

The participants were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study, a group of individuals who were born in 1936 and took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947.

Since 1999, researchers have been working with the Lothian Birth Cohorts to chart how a person’s thinking power changes over their lifetime. The follow-up times in the Cohorts are among the longest in the world.

In the search for interventions that could reduce the rate of cognitive decline, brain training and other digital cognitive games have come under particular and extensive study.

But, whether digital cognitive games and so-called brain training have a protective effect on cognitive functions is controversial – and no control study exists with the participants intelligence measured at a young age.  

Overall, evidence for positive effects of playing analogue games is no stronger than for digital games, found the study.

The study is published in The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences 

Age UK (Disconnected Mind project) and the Medical Research Council supported it


Scientists have unveiled diet and lifestyle tips that maintain brain health in old age. 

According to researchers from around the world ‘what’s good for the heart is good for the brain’.

They add that no single food acts as a ‘silver bullet’ for improving or maintaining brain health.

The experts have put together the following diet and lifestyle advice to help people preserve their brain health as they age.

Eating plenty of berries helps maintain people's brain health as they get older

Eating plenty of berries helps maintain people’s brain health as they get older

Eat plenty of:

  • Berries
  • Fresh vegetables, particularly leafy greens
  • Healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Fish and seafood

Include the following in your diet:

  • Beans and other legumes
  • Fruit
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Poultry
  • Grains
Red meat consumption should be limited

Red meat consumption should be limited

Limit intakes of:

  • Fried food
  • Pastries
  • Processed foods
  • Red meat
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Salt

Other tips:

  • Stay active
  • Avoid overeating
  • Eat at least one meal a week with fish that is not deep fried
  • Watch out for salt levels in pre-made food
  • Use lemon, vinegar, herbs and spices to flavour food over salt
  • Snack on raw, plain, unsalted nuts
  • Eat vegetables with a range of different colours
  • Prepare meals from scratch 

Eleven researchers from the Global Council on Brain Health, including experts from the University of Exeter, met on September 12-to-13 2017 to discuss the impact of diet on the brain health of adults over 50. 

Their recommendations are based on the evaluation of studies investigating the impact of nutrients on the cognitive function of older adults. 


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