Holiday Nostalgia

Enhancing Memory trough Relationship


“Memories…light the corners of my mind” say the words to the old song “The Way We Were.” This is exactly the key to boosting memory. Memories really do light the corners of our brain by causing synaptic fire through the neurons. There is no time like the holidays to gather with friends and family and relive the times past. It is always entertaining to see who remembers what part of the event and who has colored those memories with rose colored glasses into nostalgia. After almost two years of being separated from family, many will choose to gather again this year and this connection can strengthen what has eroded.

Social connection is an important part of the brain as it stimulates the brain to make more connections and to ignite certain areas, much like learning a new language does. It is especially important for the aging brain. A recent study* found that social connections boosted the grey matter in the brain giving it a better microstructure. These social connections like experiences are the roadmap to memory building. Study after study has proven that the key to a healthy brain is an active brain and this includes socializing and getting out.

Singing songs, playing games, sharing memories…all of these stimulate the brain to grey which is what we want our brain to do to grow and stay active. An amazing way to boost memory over the holiday season and help a loved one recall is to play games and activities that stimulate memory and work on recall together. Being deliberate about playing games that perhaps recall parts of life or allow one to explore new places is a great way to build/connect that grey matter. Playing card games can improve short-term memory as well as long-term memory.

There are cards games of varying difficulty levels to choose from:

BRIDGE. The best card games are those that demand memory, strategy and attentiveness. Bridge is one such game. It teaches logic, reasoning, quick thinking, patience, concentration and partnership skills. Bridge also involves at least 4 people so there is a valuable social component to the game as well.

GO FISH. Card games don’t have to be as complex as bridge to help with mental acuity. Even simple card games like Go Fish help exercise the brain.

GIN RUMMY. This is an old favorite that’s easy to learn but requires careful attention. A player needs to track what cards have been picked up and which have been discarded.

POKER. Organize a poker night for your family and make sure your parents come! Play games like 5 Card Draw or Texas Hold ‘em.

BLACKJACK. These card games can be a lot of competitive fun. They also require concentration and visual memory.

SOLITAIRE. Even a game of Solitaire can be a good brain game. However, card games that involve others have the additional benefit of promoting socialization. This interaction with others is known to help promote brain health as well as emotional well-being.

Many websites provide lists of more card games—and you just need a simple deck of cards.

The New England Journal of Medicine studied people over the age of 75 who engage in brain-stretching board games. These people were less likely to develop dementia than their peers who didn’t play these games. AARP members can play “Staying Sharp” games on the website.

Some great games that are good exercises for the brain are:

CHECKERS. This is a classic game that can be played with grandkids. There are many ways to play and checkers can be played with little ones and older ones.

CHINESE CHECKERS. Work the problem-solving muscle by figuring out how to move the marbles when moves seem limited. Because there are small pieces, it’s not recommended near infants or toddlers.

MAHJONG. Popular with the ladies and strategically demanding. This one works out your mental reasoning and logic which is an important life skill and test taking skill.

BACKGAMMON. This game requires critical thinking to beat your opponent. Many people have never learned to play this infinitely challenging game.

DOMINOS. This requires thinking ahead and concentration. This game can be played with a whole bunch of people on teams and can go on for hours. There are also other versions which can be played with littles such as rhyming dominoes or Triominos.

BINGO. A simple game but one that usually involves a lot of other people and is good for socialization. It can be used in a large group and customized to an event such as a holiday gathering or even a baby shower.

One advantage of these games is that it opens conversation and memories related to the games so that family begins to connect and grandparents begin sharing history with grandkids through the life of the game.

Whatever route you go with your holiday, remember that taking time to socialize, play games, sing songs and spend time in relationship is the key to building a better brain. And when the holidays are over, remember to continue to sharpen your brain through brain games and activities no matter your age. “Can it be that it was all so simple….misty water colored memories of the way we were…”

*Greater Social Engagement and Greater Gray Matter Microstructural Integrity in Brain Regions Relevant to Dementia | The Journals of Gerontology: Series B | Oxford Academic ( Donesa Walker, M.Ed., BCCS, is the owner of LearningRx of Shreveport-Bossier.