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  • By Lisa Jevens

Brain Games, Techie and Traditional

Everyone's mind needs exercise, down time and stress relief just like your body. Games and activities designed to help accomplish this can be a great way to challenge yourself.

Though science has not conclusively proven that so-called brain games actually improve the brain, that’s no reason not to have a good time playing them--especially if they keep your visual, mental and verbal skills sharp and exercise your gray matter a little bit each day. Here are some popular games and activities you might want to try to engage your mind.

1. Adult coloring books

Therapists are writing “prescriptions” for adult coloring books to help people calm stress, build concentration, meditate, and essentially put their minds in a better place. Adult coloring book titles are so ubiquitous, they could fill a library. There is something for every interest, from plants and animals to ethnic designs and inspirational sayings — even Disney and the Bible. The latest is adult coloring books that cater to men, with images of cars, sports and power tools. There are some that have been designed by art therapists, occupational therapists and other health care professionals. Most adult coloring books have intricate designs that require fine motor skills and focus. However, you also can buy them with larger, simpler designs. These are great for people with arthritis, vision problems, or no experience with art materials. Adult coloring books are not typically done with crayons, but with colored pencils or fine-point markers, which you must purchase separately. Any bookstore will have a selection of these to browse, as they are a hot trend right now. Expect to pay about $10 to $15; even less if you buy online.2.

2. Upwords

Upwords is a board game similar to Scrabble, with the added challenge of being three-dimensional. You must form words on a grid using letter tiles just like in Scrabble, but in Upwords, you can stack letters on top of other letters to change a word slightly and gain more points. This makes the game more mentally challenging and fun because you are not only thinking of words you can spell with the tiles in your rack, but also what you can alter or expand. For example, TIME becomes TAME or TOTAL. This removes a lot of the frustration of Scrabble, because there is almost always a tile you can play to gain points. The scoring is actually less complex than Scrabble. Each tile is worth one point, and there are no more triple words or double letter spaces on the board to calculate. The tiles in Upwords fit securely into a plastic board, so they cannot be accidentally shifted. This makes the game portable, so you can easily move it off the table and save it for later. Upwords can be played by two to four players, and costs about $17 in toy stores.3.

3. Lumosity

Lumosity is a leading brain training program that you hear advertised constantly on National Public Radio. Lumosity offers more than 50 web and mobile games designed to challenge core cognitive abilities such as language, flexibility, memory, problem solving, speed and attention, while also being fun and simple to use. The look is understated, so you can focus better on the challenges. Lumosity is free for smartphones, tablets, and desktop, but you must create an account. As soon as you do this, Lumosity will ask you a series of questions, then create a “brain workout” for you comprised of some games to get you started. Lumosity is free, but a premium membership costs $11.95 per month or $4 per month with an annual subscription. Paying for Lumosity gets you access to more games. It also allows you to track your scores and compare them with other users. Visit your device’s app store, or

4. Elevate

Elevate was selected by Apple as its best free app of the year in the United States in 2014 for “its great design, the best progress tracker, loads of interactivity and smart daily motivation reminders.” It focuses on communication and analytical skills such as clarity, error avoidance, precision, syntax, agility and more. It also covers practical everyday life skills such as remembering names and tipping. Users choose the skills they want to work on, then receive a daily plan and reminder. Elevate recommends playing the games five times a week for best results. Each user’s personalized program will adjust over time based on performance. Elevate is free for mobile devices. The Pro version, which offers more games and unlimited access to all games and more extras, costs $8 per month, $40 per year or $150 for a lifetime membership. Download from your device’s app store.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section on October 14, 2016.

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