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Playing Card Games Promotes Senior Brain Fitness

Playing Cards Helps Keep Your brain Fit

Paul Cézanne, Les Joueurs de Carte

Paul Cézanne, Les Joueurs de Carte

Exercise Your Brain To Keep It Fit

Getting older is a fact of life. While we fight the physical effects of aging with exercise and diet, we should also be concerned with our brain fitness. Seniors who see signs of memory loss may also fear losing their cognitive abilities as they age. However, new research shows that new brain cells continue to be produced even as we age. Many studies of older people have determined that decline in brain power is not inevitable, but can be slowed by actively exercising our brains and challenging our new brain cells with a variety of stimulating activities. Sticking to familiar and routine activities will not stimulate these new cells. Just as our bodies need physical exercises and training to keep fit, so our brains need to be exercised to keep fit.

Keep Those Neurons Firing

The National Institute on Aging says that strategy games, board games, word games, Sudoku, crossword puzzles and card games are all brain fitness exercises. Some of these exercises are enjoyed alone while others have the added benefit and stimulation of social interaction.

Playing cards is one activity that many people have enjoyed all their lives. Continuing to play card games will help seniors maintain their brainpower as they age.

Choose Challenging Card Games Like Pinochle, Bridge or Canasta

When choosing card games to play for brain fitness, bypass those endless games of solitaire that become routine and boring. Instead, play games like pinochle, bridge or canasta that exercise memory, concentration, strategy and math skills. Choose something new and challenging, and make an effort to learn new games every so often. Games that involve concentration, reasoning, problem solving, memory, information processing and focus will stimulate brain cells and keep neural pathways functioning. By challenging brain cells with these kinds of games, the neuron pathways are stimulated and continue to grow and develop despite cell damage that may be caused by aging or medical conditions. Variety, in this case, is not only the spice of life, but it is critical to keeping those neurons firing.

Brain Fitness Programs

Card Games Improve Math Skills and Memory Skills

What better way to keep mentally fit than to get together with friends to learn a new game or enjoy an old favorite? Playing card games can help keep senior minds active by learning playing strategies and using math skills. Improve memory skills by playing games that depend on remembering which cards have been played and which are still likely to be in the opposing players’ hands. Sharpen math skills by quickly adding points played and keeping score – and leave that calculator in the drawer! Doing simple math in your head will exercise those brain cells! Card games that require players to develop strategies will force those new brain cells to connect and become active.

How to Play Hand and Foot

Card Game Rules

Looking for card game rules? The United States Playing Card Company has a great website with rules for every card game imaginable.

Some Old Favorite Card Games

One of my favorite games is Hand and Foot, a version of Canasta that we learned a few years ago while camping with some friends. This is a great game to play with 4 or 6 people. It’s played with partners using regular playing cards (one more decks of cards than there are players). Each player has two playing hands containing 11 cards (13 by some rules) each, one stack is called the Hand, the other the Foot. The game is fast paced and fun with just enough complexity to make it a challenge. Played by building stacks of cards called “books”, there are many things to watch for at one time, keeping all players on their toes.

Another family favorite is Pinochle. While the game itself is easy to learn, the players who remember which cards have been played are the most successful. There is also a strategy to playing the cards once the meld has been put on the table.

Various versions of Rummy can be deceptively simple or more complex. One of my favorite Rummy games is Shanghai Rummy which is played like Rummy, but with different combinations of runs and sets required for each round, the game keeps players on their toes as they try to get on the table and use all of their cards first.

Want to learn a new game that will exercise your brain? How about learning to play Bridge, Whist, Cribbage, Canasta or Texas Hold ‘Em?

Card Games

Playing Cards Teaches Skills

Although this article is dedicated to brain fitness in seniors, playing cards is fun and useful for all ages. Card games can be used to teach children basic math skills, matching and observation, numbers and social skills. What better way to combine senior brain fitness exercises with teaching children some valuable skills than to play card games with your grandchildren?

In tough economic times, getting together with friends to play cards or board games is also an economical way to entertain. A stimulating evening or afternoon of cards not only keeps our minds active and alert as we age, but is a great excuse to socialize, laugh and have fun. And never underestimate the importance of laughter and fun to healthy, active minds.


Copyright ©2012 Stephanie Henkel

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Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 12, 2015:

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Stephanie, what a fascinating hub to read. Real interesting to know how it can promote brain health to senior citizens. Voted up!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on August 17, 2014:

Teaches12345 - Try teaching the kids some other card games, too. Kids pick up the rules so quickly, and its fun to mix it up.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on August 17, 2014:

Vocalcoach - Playing cards with family and friends is a great social activity as well as a means to keep your brain fit...and it doesn't cost anything!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on August 17, 2014:

Sunshine625 - I never got into poker, but I love most other card games. Maybe I should give it another try...

Dianna Mendez on August 16, 2014:

I love solitaire and play it on my phone to pass the time. Good to know I'm exercising my brain. I still love playing Old Maid when the kids come to visit.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on August 16, 2014:

As a child I grew up playing all kinds of card games with my family. I just loved it. I still do today and look for any opportunity to play.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on August 16, 2014:

Brain exercises are so important for all ages. Seniors especially. Card games are a fun way to keep those brains cells healthy. Poker is my favorite card game :)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on August 16, 2014:

Alex Adelman - Wow! That is mind-boggling! Thanks for noticing the typo...I'll fix it now!

Alex Adelman from Oakland Hills, CA on August 15, 2014:

Great choice in showcasing Paul Cézanne's "The Card Players" (although I think you spelled his last name wrong?). It is currently the most expensive painting ever sold at around $250,000,000!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on August 29, 2012:

Whalefeather2 - Any games that you play that stimulate your mind are good for you. We also enjoy Jeopardy, and we like playing Scrabble and other board games with our friends and family. Glad you enjoyed the article!

whalefeather2 on August 29, 2012:

I agree with you. Now into my late 60's and my husband will be 75 we try and stay mentally active. Another great mind stimulator we find is Jeopardy. Thanks for a great article.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on August 19, 2011:

Spades sounds like a lot of fun to learn. I love learning new card games -- the only problem is finding people to play with!

Your comment about getting those brain cells working in childhood is right on! I believe that children who play games, read and do creative art and crafts are building a lifetime of healthy brain habits! Thanks for stopping by!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on August 18, 2011:

Yes, it's extremely important for seniors to keep the brain cells working. Exploring one's family history is a great "hobby" for this. But equally important is getting those brain cells working in childhood.

My kids' teachers were impressed, but their Sunday School teachers horrified, that I encouraged the kids to play "adult" card games from the time their little hands were big enough to hold a fan of cards. We'd start with "War" and "Go Fish" and move on to Spades.

Spades, although played on many college campuses, is the poor man's version of Bridge. I'd never heard of it until introduced to it by a friend whose college professor parents played it all the time. It really does take as much strategic and memory skills as bridge, but is a quite a bit more "lively". It can be played by as few as three people ("Cutthroat") or by as many as four individually or, like bridge, in pairs competing against each other. At least once a week when the kids were growing up, my Spades playing friends would be gathered around the dining table. Eventually, the kids were good enough to hold their own with the adults - even beat some of them on a regular basis - so the defeated were glad when 9:00 came and the kids were shuffled off to bed!

A little known poker game that's really not a game but a *great* ice breaker is "Indian Poker". Don't remember the rules now, only that our poker group never played more than two hands because by then we'd be laughing so hard we'd have to switch to a more conventional game! ;D

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on June 13, 2011:

Hi, Stephanie--the Brain Age games are for the hand-held Nintendo DS Lite. I'm not sure if they are anywhere online--I've not looked.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 13, 2011:

Hi Kashmir, I do need all the help I can get, too! :) Thanks for commenting and for your vote!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on June 13, 2011:

Hi Stephanie, great informational hub, it is so important to keep your mind always working and activities that will do that will in the long run help that person's memory working better and longer .

Useful and vote up !!!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 13, 2011:

Hi Denise- I haven't played Euchre in years - it's another game that we should try again. We do love to play cards with our friends, though usually it's Shanghai Rummy, Pinochle or Hand and Foot. Maybe we need to mix it up a little? Thanks for your comment!

DzyMsLizzy- Wow, you sure have a wonderful selection of games that you play! I haven't played many cards games on the computer, but the Brain Age games sound like fun. I'll have to look them up. The one thing great about computer games is that you can play even if you don't have a willing partner. My father used to love to play poker on the computer, but used to get mad when he lost. :) Thanks for your comments and votes!

PrariePrincess - What a great idea to take students to the Nursing Home to play games with the residents! I'm sure it was fun for all concerned, and was certainly an icebreaker that got everyone involved. Thanks for your comments and votes!

Susan - Texas Hold Em seems to be a really popular game right now, but I haven't played enough to really get it. Maybe playing online would help! Thanks for visiting my hub and for your comment.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on June 13, 2011:

Hand and Foot looks like it is fun to play. I play Texas Hold Em on Facebook all the time and really enjoy it. I have always wanted to learn how to play Bridge and hope to one day. Really enjoyed your hub.

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on June 13, 2011:

Stephanie, this is excellent! For my last job, I used to take my students into the local nursing home, to do volunteer work with the seniors. They helped the recreation coordinator play games with these seniors, many who were no longer independent, and some who did not seem to always be "with us."

Well, the coordinator usually had them play games with these residents, and they all loved it! They especially loved this one boy who caused trouble everywhere he went, except here! They played tile rummy and a couple of other games, and all seemed to really benefit, and come alive!

This great hub reminded me of these dear folks. Voted up, and rated all of the above. Great job!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on June 12, 2011:

Hi there!

I love games--puzzle games are my favorite, and I have several versions on my computer, ranging from Dynomite to Atlantis Quest and the various incarnations of Luxor. Many are ball-shooting/matching games, but these keep the eye-hand coordination intact.

I also have a Nintendo Game Boy and DS Lite--with more puzzle games, from the old Tetris to the "Brain Age" games which are specifically designed to stimulate the brain.

As far as card games go, my mother-in-law showed us Hand and Foot...which I'd never heard of...we found it very confusing, and have only played the one time. I do enjoy Texas Hold'em (on the computer--where I can always win no matter my hand by continually raising until I force the computer opponents to fold.) LOL Too bad that wouldn't work in a real game! ;-) I like cribbage, too, but unfortunately, no one in my circle, hubby included, likes to sit and play games..other than computer games... ... ...

Voted up!!!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on June 12, 2011:

Hi Stephanie, great hub. My favorite 'couples' card game was Euchre. My husband and I used to play it frequently with another couple and even attended tournements. Thanks-great points made here about the need to keep the brain sharp.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 12, 2011:

Hi Jaye, While I enjoy playing cards, I have to agree that Scrabble is my all-time favorite game. I also like playing it on the computer and have even ventured into a couple of on-line Scrabble playing groups a few times. Like you, I have a family history of Alzheimers (my Mom). Now that it's too late, I see that there were some things she/we could have done differently, the most important being to encourage more brain challenging activities and social stimulation. As always, thanks for your comments!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 12, 2011:

Hi Gail, Thanks for stopping by to read my hub and for your comments!

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on June 12, 2011:

How amazing (to me) that you should mention Hand and Foot, a variety of canasta that never crossed my path until I became friends with some people who played it frequently. I found the rules online, but still haven't played the game.

My reluctance may be a holdover from the autumn during which my youngest child started to school. That fall, I met with other mothers a couple of times per week and played canasta enough to last me the rest of my life! (The same thing happened to me with Monopoly when I was even younger. Burnout.)

I enjoyed playing the card games Rook and Gin Rummy many years ago, but don't know anyone who plays them now.

The only board game of which I never tire is Scrabble, and I will probably play it for the rest of my life. I even put a version on my computer so I can play it solitarily, if necessary.

I agree that we need to stimulate those brain cells, and we need the social interaction as well. Perhaps I should join a senior citizens' group to play you think? I certainly need to do everything possible to ward off Alzheimers, as I have two strikes against me: both my parents had that dread disease.

Thanks for the info, Stephanie....JAYE


Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on June 12, 2011:

Great hub with some wonderful suggestions for seniors to exercise their brains while having a good time with friends and family.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 12, 2011:

BlissfulWriter - You are absolutely correct. Social interaction is so important to our mental health and well being. Thanks for your comments!

BlissfulWriter on June 12, 2011:

Beside stimulating the neurons, these games provide social interaction and studies have shown that maintaining social interactions is one way to stave off Alzheimer's.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 12, 2011:

Hi JSParker, Mah Jongg seems like a great game to exercise those brain cells! I had a few lessons once at a campground and it seems like a terrific game. I haven't learned Bridge either, though I'm considering it. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment!

JSParker from Detroit, Michigan on June 12, 2011:

Hi Stephanie,

I have a monthly "First Saturday" women's pinochle group of two tables with four players. Sometimes we play with as few as five at one table which is my favorite (3 against 2) pinochle game. Recently I had a lesson in Mah Jongg for possibly joining a group that seems to always run short of available players. I really enjoyed that lesson and look forward to playing more. Never made it with bridge, though, that one went over my head.

Nicely written hub. Well illustrated, too. Thanks.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 12, 2011:

Suramya - I've never heard of the card game Marriage, but will look it up. It's always good to learn a new game! Thanks for stopping by to comment!

Cardeleen - You hit the nail on the head when it comes to brain fitness. "Use it or Lose it" is the running theme in keeping our brains active and healthy. Thanks for your comments!

cardelean from Michigan on June 12, 2011:

I love the challenge of Sudoku. Your hub really reaffirms the idea of trying something new everyday. You either use it or lose it! Great hub.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 12, 2011:

Hello Case1worker, My husband and I both enjoy Sudoku, too. It does become addictive, doesn't it? I'm sure your husband will be happy to know that his weekly poker games are good for his brain! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment on my hub!

Suramya.K on June 12, 2011:

I love playing a card game called "Marriage". Its fun and I feel it boosts our memory too. Glad to see some scientific evidences for this. Thanks!

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on June 12, 2011:

great hub- i have often thought this myself and encourage my husband top do his sudoku and poker once a week

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on June 11, 2011:

Hi Alocsin, Thanks for your comment and your vote! As I'm already a senior, I need all the the help I can get to keep the old neurons firing! Playing games is sure a lot more fun than some of the other things we do to keep healthy. :)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on June 11, 2011:

What an interesting topic for us soon-to-be seniors. Voting this one up.

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