Board games for your health and well-being

The Bottom Line

  • Board games are fun activities that can help older adults improve their quality of life and their memory.
  • Board games can promote the acquisition of knowledge, while allowing exchanges through interpersonal interactions.
  • Board games (including their digital versions) can help us to break social isolation with fun activities (while maintaining the rules of confinement and social distancing).

Do you remember cards nights with family and friends? Games of Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Chess, Go, or Rummy?

Many people enjoy board games of all kinds, whether they be logic games, numbers, letters, sudokus... Some board games have been around for millennia! Many older adults are fans of these games because they are fun recreational activities that allow them to maintain social contacts.

What is known about the effects of board games on the quality of life or physical and cognitive functions of older adults?

What the research tells us

A recent systematic review of 27 studies looked at the effectiveness of health programs that use board games.(1)

Despite a limited number of studies and a lack of comparison with control groups, researchers have found that board games have positive effects on knowledge, cognitive functions, physical activity, anxiety, and severity of Alzheimer's disease (to name just a few).

Effects on knowledge
Research evidence also shows that board games can improve memory, but also increase and maintain cerebral agility, the speed of information processing, concentration, creativity, and sense of strategy.

Some board games are specially developed with the aim of increasing knowledge in a particular field in order to promote behaviour changes, for example in relation to smoking, nutrition, road safety or to prevent HIV infection. In addition, the use of board games can help increase the benefits of an intervention or treatment among older adults by increasing their motivation to adopt certain health-promoting behaviours or to continue treatment.

Effects on cognitive functions and other conditions
Various strategy games can improve cognitive functions, such as chess and Go (an Asian strategy game). Studies have found improvement in attention and memory in older adults with dementia or living in nursing homes after regularly playing Go. This game is believed to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as manifestations of Alzheimer's disease. Board games may also play a role in preventing the onset of this disorder. Chess studies have shown that game training improves the planning ability of patients with schizophrenia.

Note that you don't have to speak in order to play many board games. Therefore, board games appear promising in therapies for patients with speech disorders, for example.

Be ready for playtime!

With the cold weather setting in and the lockdown period due to the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, board games could become part of your arsenal to face coming months!
- Take your board games out of the closet so that you can play with other people who are under the same roof as you.
- Give board games to your loved ones as a gift so that they can also experience pleasant moments within their own bubble.
- Install board games on your computer or mobile device so you can play with family and friends that you haven't seen in weeks.
- Use a video chat app to play with someone far away from you.

The pandemic prevents us from participating in the traditional social activities of the holiday season and the new year. But board games (including their digital versions) can help us to break social isolation with fun activities.

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Author Details


  1. Noda S, Shirotsuki K, Nakao M. The effectiveness of intervention with board games: A systematic review. BioPsychoSocial Medicine. 2019, 13(22).

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.