The Ultimate Guide to board games for brain training

Woman plays Jenga game

BY: ALISON

Without lights and sounds associating with gaming apps or consoles, board games are less stimulating than other activities and require very little physical exertion. They were among very few things that I was able to do during the acute phase of my injury.

Board games are great for brain training and reconditioning. In fact, I suggested board games as a mentally challenging activity in my previous article, Having a brain injury increases your chances of dementia: here are activities that can help and are great for encouraging and facilitating social interaction.

After my injury, I wanted to avoid my friends, because conversations were exhausting and difficult to follow. But playing board games with friends was perfect. I got the social connection that I needed without having to engage in deep conversation. Also, the pressure and focus was off of me, since everyone’s attention was directed towards the game.

Not to mention, board games are super fun (heck, they’ve withstood the test of time), provide hours of distraction, and can be played solo. I didn’t need assistance or company for entertainment.

The selection of board games is endless, so there’s always something new to try.

Scrabble board
Photo: Pixabay via  Pexels

 

How to challenge yourself using board games:

The following guidelines will teach you how to train your brain by gradually increasing the difficulty of your board games. The steps should be tackled one at a time, moving forward only when you are confident with the previous step. Be patient with yourself, as you may need weeks or months before advancing. Regular practice and repetition are the keys to success here.

Step 1:

In the beginning, focus only on learning and following the rules of the game. Don’t worry about speed or trying to win. Simply learn the basics of how to play. Play as many times as needed to become familiar with it. This will improve your learning and memory skills.

Step 2:

If you’re playing a game by yourself, then play with the goal of improving your result, speed, or efficiency. For example, depending on the game, you could try to collect more points, finish the game more quickly, or finish the game using fewer moves. Work through one objective at a time.

If you’re playing a game with others, figure out one strategy that will help you win the game. However, the focus should be on discovering and practicing the strategy, not on winning. This promotes problem-solving skills. If you’re stuck, ask the person you’re playing with to teach you their approach. Once you’re familiar with the first one, see if there are other strategies that could help you win the game. Determine which one(s) are the most effective. Eventually, the goal is to use a combination of strategies at the same time. This is great practice for multi-tasking skills. You might even start winning more games.

Step 3:

Now that you’ve figured out how you like to play the game, it’s time to pay attention to how your opponents are playing. See if they make decisions differently from you, figure out what their strategies are, and try to predict their next moves. Compare their approach to your own, see which one is more effective, and learn from them. Furthermore, think of new tactics that will prevent your opponents from winning. This will exercise your analytical and critical-thinking skills.

Finally, try to improve your chances of winning. You will likely need to change your plan multiple times throughout a game in order to adapt to new scenarios/problems and to circumvent your opponents. Once you become really good at the game, start these steps over again with a different game.

board games that can be adapted for single players

Board games that can be adapted for single players:

While it’s better to play board games with other people, one-player games allow you to practice at any time. Some of the board games listed were not originally designed for single players, but you will find solo variant instructions online. The following suggestions vary widely in difficulty and cost.

Word Games

Scattergories

Bananagrams

Scrabble

Boggle

Honourable mention: Code Names – Although this game cannot be played solo, it is, in my opinion, the best word-focused, brain training game. It allows you to practice communication, word associations, and different thought processes. The cards could even be used separately for reading and comprehension.

Pattern Games

  1. Set – This simple card game is really good for unique pattern-recognition, concentration, and different lines of thinking.
  2. Bingo –  even more fun if there are small prizes to be won.
  3. Puzzles
  4. Carcassonne – No language skills are required to play this tile-based puzzle / strategic game.
  5. Enigma – Includes fragment puzzles and 3-D puzzles among other challenges.

Honourable mention: Sudoku – This is not a board game, but it’s great for figuring out number patterns. The difficulty ranges from easy to very hard. Also, you can find free printable sudokus online.

 Fine Motor Skills Games

  1. Jenga – Try Giant Jenga if fine motor skills are an issue.)
  2. Perfection – There’s the original version with 25 pieces and a more affordable version with only 9 pieces. This game also has a pattern-matching/puzzle component to it.
Woman plays Jenga game
Photo: Pixabay 

Honourable mention: Building blocks and sets (e.g wooden blocks, jumbo cardboard blocks, Mega Bloks, Lego, K’Nex, etc.) – These aren’t board games, but they’re great for stimulating creativity.

Memory Games

  1. There are many different versions of matching card games that were designed to practice memory skills. See here for more information, you could also play this type of memory game using a regular deck of cards.

General Knowledge Games

  1. Cardline – Variations include: Globetrotter, Animals, Dinosaurs
  2. Timeline  – Variations include: Diversity, Historical Event, Inventions, Music and Cinema, Science and Discoveries

Problem Solving or Brain Teaser Games

  1. Mindtrap  – A game with many riddles, brain teasers, and picture puzzles.

  2. Enigma – This includes math-based and various puzzle-based challenges.

  3. Robot Turtles – This is a kids game that can be used to practice logical thinking, planning ahead, and improving efficiency. It was originally designed to introduce programming fundamentals to kids.)

Strategy Games

  1. Single-player card games, such as Solitaire (played with a regular deck of cards, Instructions on how to play can be found here) or Friday – a survival / battling card game.
  2. Catan Dice Game – a settlement-building game was designed for one or more players.
  3. Pandemic – The object of this game is to treat and eradicate diseases before they spread out of control.
  4. Imperial Settlers – This empire-building game was designed for 1 or more players.
  5. Blokus – This tile-placement game does not require language skills.

Adventure Games

  1. Mage Knight – This is the most complex and expensive board game I’ve listed in this article. It is a strategic game that is based in an adventure and story. The game includes instructions for solo play, but there are many pieces and rules, so I suggest watching YouTube videos, HERE and HERE that help explain them.

My Favourite Games Stores:

  1. Walmart

Walmart doesn’t have a large selection of unique games, but every now and then they have great sales on classic games. I purchased the following games for less than $20 each while they were on sale: Scattegories, Bingo, puzzles, Jenga, Perfection, Sudoku books, and decks of playing cards.

  1. 401 Games

This is my favourite board games store. They have an extensive selection, competitive prices, and incredibly knowledgeable staff. They have a storefront at 518 Yonge Street, Toronto, and an online store as well.

Although their store is wheelchair accessible, their games room for events is not. If you want to avoid a crowd, go before 3 pm or shop online. I suggest ordering your games online and then picking them up at the store to save on shipping. If transportation is an issue, shipping is a flat rate of $8.95 per order. Shipping is free for orders of $150 or more.


Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other trauma). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.

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Fatigue and the heat wave

BY: MARK KONING

There is a saying, ‘no two brain injuries are alike.’

This is true, every acquired brain injury is indeed different. But these horrid ABIs share some commonalities, and one in particular is fatigue.

people walking on a busy sidewalk in the summer
photo credit: Holographic Circus Wume / Aural States via photopin (license)

Similar to brain injury, fatigue is invisible. I find it to be hiding in the corners of my brain, lurking in the shadows. It seems to be ready to jump into action at any given time of the day. A nap, or extra rest, does not cure it.

Fatigue:

extreme drowsiness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.

I’m not sure if people understand the effect fatigue has on someone living with a brain injury. I find it comes in waves and at various levels of low, mild and extreme.

It is a silent paralyzer, and never a pleasant experience. It is disorienting. One could almost wonder how much worse it possibly get?

Remember last summer? 2016 was the hottest year on record. This summer we have some relief, but the heat and humidity persist on most days, and they are a lethal instigator of fatigue.

Close up of an outdoor thermometer reading 100 degrees
photo credit: jo3design [DSP] May 18: Heat Wave via photopin (license)
While I’m not sure what is the best way to beat this devastating duo of fatigue and the heat wave, I know there must be a way to deal with it.

Perhaps it is inner strength, or knowing how to slow yourself down and breathe. Maybe the answer is to go for a nice cool swim or take a cold shower. Regardless of how staggering it can get, like with many things, I will get through it and survive.

I’m sure any of us who come up against these monsters can do the same. (And remember, fall is just around the corner.)

But sometimes I wonder, which is harder? Dealing with the fatigue or dealing with the fact that others don’t understand why I’m dealing with the fatigue. Maybe it is me not always telling people that I’m trying to deal with the fatigue.

Wow, that’s confusing, but that is also brain injury.

Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing – for others as well as himself. His experience as a survivor, caregiver, mentor and writer has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com

Wisdom gained from 20 years of living with ABI in 4 mantras

BY: JEAN OOSTROM

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I write today about the passage of time after brain trauma.

Since acquiring a brain injury as a result of a stroke in 1997, some thoughts have helped with my recovery:

I never gave up.

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But other thoughts have hindered it.

Immediately following a brain injury, a diagnosis – be it a concussion, stroke, combat trauma, or PTSD – can be a word that both the brain injured person, and the people who care for that person, can use to start to recover.

For the people who care for the brain injured person, a diagnosis can provide a research tool or an avenue for questions so recovery can proceed.

For the person with the brain injury, a diagnosis can provide a much needed answer and recovery options.

But with the passage of time, that original diagnosis can become a label, which may hinder recovery.

With the passage of time, caregivers might wonder if they have missed something, that could move recovery in a different direction.

With the passage of time, the person with the brain trauma might start to accept the fact that, ‘this is as good as I am going to get.’

Which is why thoughts like these have helped me recover, with the passage of time:

At times I played the role of caregiver for myself and trusted my recovery options

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I’ve been down and out, pulled myself up and made it to the other side

i-never-gave-up

The brain trauma will always be part of my life, but it will not rule my life.

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Jean Oostrom is the creator of New Brain Living as a place where people with brain injuries and the people who care for them can find answers.  New Brain Living started out as a project to make some sense of her own brain injury in 1997, and now is making a difference for many brain injured people and the people who care for them.

Jean has coined herself “the voice for the brain injured person” and provides information “from the brain injured point of view” so people can find answers as they “learn to live with their new brains” after all types of brain trauma.

The following recovery options are available at the New Brain Living website www.newbrainliving.com

5 Answers to New Brain Living – The First Step to Learning to Live With Your New Brain

New Brain  Living Book

New Brain Living Blog

Twitter @NewBrainLiving

Jean shared more of wisdom last year during Brain Injury Awareness Month:

Saba’s tips for holiday survival

BY: SABA RIZVI

The holidays are a tough time for everyone, and this is especially true for brain injury survivors who are often dealing with issues such as chronic fatigue, pain and cognitive fatigue.

Here are some tips I’ve come up since acquiring my brain injury a few years ago on how to get through two of the more challenging parts of the season: holiday dinner and shopping.

Saba Rizvi

 

Surviving the Holiday Dinner

Please let your host, or a trusted family member know about any concerns you may have, such as if you require a break during the event. Do not let the idea of being a ‘burden’ take over, as family and friends should be more than happy to help out.

Find grounding techniques that help you deal with your anxiety or pain levels, such as drinking lots of water and deep breathing when necessary. These little activities can make a big difference and help you sort your thoughts when things get overwhelming.

Don’t forget to take your medications with you in case you need them.

Holiday Shopping

Santas in a mall
photo credit: shaggy359 Which one’s him? via photopin (license)

Malls tend to get very overcrowded, and the increase in light displays and music does not help!

In order to deal with the crowd, you can take a friend with you and have a list of the stores you want to visit, along with where they are located in the mall. That way, you have both support and direction during this process. Having direction while shopping helps you navigate through the crowd and noise by putting it in the back of your mind.

You’re essentially making it secondary to your goal. You can also wear sunglasses or a brimmed hat to help with the light, and earphones or earplugs to reduce noise. If you would prefer to skip the mall altogether, you can shop for your gifts online, but time’s running out for that option quickly.

Again, have a list of the things you need and where you can buy them, and have a friend help you shop online. Happy shopping!


Saba Rizvi was in her second year of medical school when she sustained her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). She has navigated her way through her TBI with the support of her family and friends, as well as from her knowledge of psychology and medicine. Saba has previously written blog posts for BIST and is currently a peer-mentor at the Brain Injury Association of Peel-Halton (BIAPH). She also promotes positive mental health via her artwork, and curated posts & articles. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Planned structure: why it’s important post-ABI + 8 tips getting started

BY: CELIA M

One of the many things we lose during recovery from an ABI is structure in our day-to-day routines.

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PHOTO: RESILIENTISTA.COM

While rehab and specialist appointments may maintain a facsimile of structure to your day or week, what are you doing with the rest of your time?  Have you fallen into a routine of sleeping the morning away, followed by an afternoon marathon of talk shows, soaps and game shows? Does your wardrobe consist of pajamas or sweat pants? By supper time do you start thinking about all the ‘things’ you should have done – only now you are beyond tired, and you remember you didn’t really eat anything (does a chocolate and left over pizza count?), and you’re now counting down the time until you move from your sofa to your bed – only to start the cycle again tomorrow? Unless of course there is a medical appointment you need to attend.

This type of day I call unplanned structurein the early days of recovery you went from bed to medical/rehab appointments and back to bed, because that’s all your body and brain could handle. Over time, this became unplanned structure, as it was easier to do nothing than to think and make a decision about how you were going to carry out an activity, which may take more planning now than before you acquired a brain injury.

Know, I’m not judging. I‘ve lived this, but I’m here to let you in on a little secret – planned structure is key to getting back to adding more fun and enjoyment into your day.

For many people the word structure can conjure up visons of rigidity, being controlled, or being stuck in a boring routine. But structure can be a very powerful tool to help you get back to functioning on a regular basis and enjoying life. When you have structure in your life you know ‘what’s next’, which enables you to get on with your day. As ABI-survivors we can use up valuable energy trying to figure out what to do next. We might not do anything because we can’t decide or figure out what to do.

In the early years of recovery from ABI, I too was against structure, just ask my rehab girl Catherine. My reasoning was that I couldn’t predict what my energy level was going to be on any given day, so why plan anything? This left me doing nothing most of the time.

I also wanted to feel like I had control over my own day. Boy, was I wrong! When I finally gave planning structure a try – with the caveat that it was OK to re-schedule an activity if I didn’t have the energy for it (without guilt, or feeling like a failure) – it was such a liberating feeling!

Planned structure became my ticket to freedom, independence and a sense of accomplishment. Knowing what came next in my day helped reduce my daily struggle with anxiety and stress. I made sure there was always built in rest time between activities, and the more I repeated an activity on a regular basis the more it became a habit. My brain started to automatically know ‘what’s next’, and before I knew it I was doing my morning grooming without having to stop and think about it.

I’m not going to sugar coat it – it takes time, and some things will continue to need to be written down (that is a post for another day) but, know that each small step (no matter how trivial and small it may seem) will get you to where you want to be, living life to its fullest no matter what your new abilities may be.

When our food, exercise and sleep patterns are consistent our body and brain function better. This makes it possible to enjoy not only the tasks we need to do but to enjoy activities we like and try new activities too.

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PHOTO:  QUOTE BY SHARIFAH NOR

Benefits of structure

  • You know ‘what’s next’ and don’t waste energy thinking about what to do next
  • You habituate a new task or behavior
  • Automates activities in your day
  • You feel more in control being able to enjoy  your day and your life

Eight tips that helped me add planned structure into my day that included activities to make my day and life more enjoyable

  • A regular wake up time
  • Morning rituals to prepare for the day ahead (showering, dressing, breakfast etc.)
  • Fitness activities (walking, stretching, gym, yoga etc.)
  • Meal times
  • Leisure time (hobbies, ‘you’ time, a nap, etc.)
  • Time with family and friends
  • Evening rituals to prepare your mind and body for rest (unplug from computers, television 1-2 hours before your bedtime;  read a book, have a bath, meditate/pray, etc.)
  • A regular bedtime

NOTE: there will be times where you will need to add your daily structured planned activities around your medical / rehab needs, and there will be times that you will be able to add your medical rehab appointments around the things you enjoy in life. With patience and time you will find balance between the two – this is when the magic of planned structure happens.

excellence-is-not-an-act-but-a-habit-quote-aristotle
PHOTO: RESILIENTISTA.COM

Bonus Tips

  • Allow for flexibility, especially on days you find your energy supply low
  • Its ok to add/remove activities as your likes change
  • Seek the help of a rehab team member, friend/family member, or psychologist in creating your daily structured plan if you are not sure how to get started.

Today, I have more enjoyment in my days and life in general because; I have created a daily structured plan that works for me.  I encourage you to give adding structure to your day a chance. And let’s not tell Catherine that she was right about structure, that will be our little secret. ☺

Celia is an ABI survivor who is dedicated to helping others move forward in their journey and live the life they dream of. She is the founder of the internationally read blog High Heeled Life – inspiration for living a luxurious and balanced life; featured author in Soulful Relationships part of the best-selling series Adventures in Manifesting; a Peer Mentor with BIST; a regular speaker for Canadian Blood Services – Speakers Bureau; Self-care advocate; Lifestyle writer/blogger.  In 2016 Celia launched the website Resilientista to inspire women to put themselves in their day, practice self-care on the daily and live their version of a High Heeled Life. Learn more about Celia and be inspired: visit http://www.HighHeeledLife.com or http://www.Resilientista.com

We love Celia! You can catch her at our next Community  Meeting on October 24th, where she’ll help us put inspiration into action at an Inspiration Board workshop

19 years plus a day

BY: JEAN OOSTROM

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As I write this, it’s been one day and 19 years since my journey of  living with my ‘new brain’ after a stroke began.

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Jean Oostrom

19 years may seem like a long time, but as the years have passed, I have made a conscious decision to be content with my level of recovery. I’ve been open to new ideas to help my recovery along further.

During recovery, I believe it is important to separate the trauma from the reactions to the trauma. I believe this is true for both the brain injured person and the people who care for that person.

I think few people have the type of compassion needed to see beyond the reactions to the trauma and recognize the person behind the injury. It takes compassion to ignore the roller coaster of emotions attached to that place where the damaged brain has had enough and recognize the brain injured person for who they are.

The people who care for the brain injured person hold the key to recovery, especially at the beginning.

It is almost impossible for the brain injured person to verbalize what is happening to their damaged brain. Only with the passage of time can a level of understanding be reached by asking questions, doing research and never giving up on your recovery.

The science of neuroplasticity is now being used in the treatment of all types of brain trauma so finally science has caught up.

The 19th anniversary of my brain trauma has come and gone, but it is really the day-to-day adjustments that have made the difference in my recovery: showing up with determination, recognizing when my damaged brain has had enough, being in open communication with the people who care for me during those dark and lonely times and, most of all, never giving up on my recovery.

So I’m looking forward Recovery Year 20, and what new recovery options are on the horizon.

This Brain Injury Awareness Month, Jean shared her story with us, check it out below: 

Jean Oostrom is the creator of New Brain Living as a place where people with brain injuries and the people who care for them can find answers.  New Brain Living started out as a project to make some sense of her own brain injury in 1997, and now is making a difference for many brain injured people and the people who care for them.

Jean has coined herself “the voice for the brain injured person” and provides information “from the brain injured point of view” so people can find answers as they “learn to live with their new brains” after all types of brain trauma.

The following recovery options are available at the New Brain Living website www.newbrainliving.com

5 Answers to New Brain Living – The First Step to Learning to Live With Your New Brain

New Brain  Living Book

New Brain Living Blog

Twitter @NewBrainLiving

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/newbrainliving/

 

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