I grew up in a family that appreciated games. The game closet was always overflowing, and playing games was the reliable “go to” activity if the weather was bad or we just didn’t know what else to do.
My parents were avid bridge players for years before their own neurological issues and frustrations took their toll. I remember [Yes, I do remember!] Bridge Nights -- when my parents moved all the downstairs furniture around, and dragged out the card tables for the massive evenings of Duplicate Bridge. I also remember feeling too young to understand the complicated system whereby each table played the same hands and somehow kept score on special pre-printed scoresheets.
I also remember that it was fine not to know how they did it. It was a different world than mine. The tables were head-high. Special adult beverages appeared, and it was no place for little Sky to pad around in his fuzzy jammies with the plastic feet. Cute as I might have been….! I trudge upstairs to see what my sisters are up to.
The Game of Life, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, or Clue.
Or just shuffle some cards, if nothing else to do
Rummy, 500 or Gin
No need to keep score just as long as I win.
Flash forward 60 years to another game table, this one holding four adults, my family. The game tonight is Hogwarts Battle. The pace is rollicking, the players loud and laughing. An elephant snores in a corner.
We are playing a co-operative game where all the players work together to keep the evil Lord Voldemort and his henchpersons from dominating the world. The skill is in cleverly building resources that then interact with resources shared by others on your team of the good guys. In other words, planning ahead, preparing for and prevailing in conflict situations and making quick complex decisions. It’s also helpful to remember the attributes of various characters, and how they change in the presence of other characters. Finally, each person must remain in communication with all the others creating and maintaining a long-term strategy to identify and keep pressure on the few weakness of He-Who-Must-Not-Be -Named, while at the same protecting yourself and your team.
If you guessed that these are not skills particularly strong in someone on the dementia continuum, you would be right. You may also wonder why I might choose to subject myself to what could be a cognitive train wreck and call it fun.
1. My family members, game-players all, have been encouraging me.
2. Once I read on the box that the game was recommended for players aged 11 and up, my personal pride came into play.
3. With three younger sisters, two children of my own, and all their friends over the years, I’d played enough Candy Land (Ages 3 and up) for a lifetime. Maybe I could hold the line at Age 11 for a while.
4. A powerful reason to give the game “the old college try” was Mnemo, now sound asleep and snoring gently. I am happy to see my friend so relaxed and calm, because my friend’s life isn’t always that way. People, all kinds of different kinds of people, tend to get cranky her presence. They say mean things. Or, they may ignore her completely. Her tough hide and massive brain serve her well.
My family get it. They get Mnemo. They accept her and welcome her. And then I can relax too, and feel stronger.
NO CURE, ONWARD.
I try the game. It’s complicated. My learning curve is steep, but with my teammates’ patience and sense of fun, manageable. The pace of the game is a little slower with me, but no one seems to be counting.
We have a great time!
A Note on #2 and #3 above: although the thought processes outlined here did help motivate me to attempt something difficult, they border on dangerous territory. If I decide that my self-image, who I am, is tied to an arbitrary number, in this case 11, then I set myself up for humiliation, despair or worse if I don’t measure up.
“Beating the numbers" is not a winning strategy for dementia.
Listen to Mnemo: