How Playing Games Can Benefit People With Parkinson’s

Lori DePorter avatar

by Lori DePorter |

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We have become a screen society. Our days are often spent looking at screens rather than each other. I am no exception.

There are digital versions of just about everything nowadays, including traditional board games. While apps can be convenient and beneficial, the feeling isn’t the same — using tactile pieces is part of the fun.

If you’ve played Monopoly, do you remember the feeling of purchasing Park Place and reaching across the table to place a hotel on your coveted property? How about the sense of accomplishment from adding the last piece of “pie” to your Trivial Pursuit game piece? These are some of life’s little victories, and sitting around a table with family and friends on game night creates memories that last a lifetime.

Playing games is fun, but for those of us with Parkinson’s disease, it can be beneficial, too. Different board or card games require us to exercise motor and cognitive abilities that may be impaired by Parkinson’s. Practicing these skills could help slow the progression of the disease and improve functioning.

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My husband, Mike, and I recently decided to break out our board games. The “DePorterville” game closet resembled a scene from “Toy Story.” I envisioned the pieces talking to each other, hoping the door would open. Which game would I choose? Which one could join exercise and music in my Parkinson’s toolbox?

The shelves were full of games, ranging in skill level from preschool to college. Some boxes were tattered and torn, while others remained unopened. It was clear which had been the favorites on past family game nights.

An unplugged play date

I would not have predicted table tennis to be an ideal activity for Mike and me. It’s a cardio exercise that requires hand-eye coordination, which can be affected by Parkinson’s. But we laugh at ourselves, and it’s been said that laughter is the best medicine.

We also settled on one of the most basic card games, gin rummy, which uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards. But we like to create our own versions and are creative with the rules to allow the game to move along. Sometimes we score each hand, and sometimes we play for either five wins or the best of five rounds.

All versions of the game incorporate both physical and cognitive exercises for Parkinson’s. Following are several skills I can practice while playing cards:

  • Shuffling and dealing the cards entails multitasking and coordination.
  • Holding and organizing the cards involves sequencing and dexterity.
  • Remembering the cards requires working memory.
  • Making a great play includes everything.

No play date? No problem

Independent card games like Memory or Solitaire can also do the trick for those of us with Parkinson’s. Playing alone is an exercise in concentration.

If cards aren’t your favorite, try games that involve words, pictures, and letters:

  • Play I Spy by looking at books or your surroundings.
  • Do word searches.
  • Use adult coloring books. (It’s OK to go outside the lines!)
  • Do large-piece jigsaw puzzles. You can make your own by cutting up old Christmas or birthday cards.
  • Build something. Find that bin of Legos hiding in the back of the closet. Use both hands to manipulate the colorful pieces into a masterpiece. The possibilities are endless.

Keep your mind and body active by putting down the screen and playing!


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Amy Dennison avatar

Amy Dennison

I ama PWP and every night my husband and I play a game of scrabble. I knew this was a way to keep my cognitive ability exercised, but never thought about the fine motor skills employed in handling the tiles, until I read this blog. Thank you for your insights!

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Scrabble every night - wow! Your vocabulary must be impressive! Use both hands with those tiles.

Hillary Johnson avatar

Hillary Johnson

Thank you for this column. My dad has PD and is now in a wheelchair. Recently he has developed a love of board games. Particular favorites are Mexican Train dominoes, Chronology and Sorry. We've started playing backgammon again and right now am on the hunt for other board games that do not require writing, holding cards or very complicated instructions. (Dad is sharp and strategic but somehow lots of directions are just too much.) We love suggestions!

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Hi Hillary-
Two favorites of mine....banana grams (it's like scrabble without a board) You don't have to do all the rules. Another is RummiKub (gin rummy with large tiles and different rules)

The best thing to remember is that winning the game is being engaged and having a good time.Use your own rules!

Let me know if you try them!



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