Card games, board games and puzzles may seem like child’s play, but they are valuable tools in the hands of people who experience the cognitive and physical deficits frequently associated with stroke. Therapists and psychologists target deficits by using games to strengthen their patients’ weaknesses. Matching the game to the specific deficit is a key to rebuilding lost skills.

“You can use about any game,” said Brenda Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor of communication disorders and sciences at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. “You just have to understand what kind of cognitive demands and skills are involved with whatever you are using.”

Inability to pay attention is common for stroke survivors. “Everyone who has any kind of brain injury, including stroke, has trouble with attention in the first phases of recovery,” Dr. Wilson said. To learn how to pay better attention, stroke patients can play games that require attention — for example, a card game called War. “It’s a fairly simple game; the important thing is that you have to pay attention,” said Ann V. Deaton, Ph.D., who has worked in rehab psychology and neuropsychology at Sheltering Arms Hospital and Children’s Hospital, both in Richmond, Va.

Attention is only one of the skills targeted in games. Others include speech, concentration, memory, word-finding and motor skills. In aphasia, damage to the language center of the brain can impair several of these skills. Other deficits may include comprehension, reading and writing.

“For a lot of stroke survivors, it’s more an issue of concentration. Can they really persist and stay focused?” Dr. Deaton said. That’s when the card game called Concentration comes in handy. It requires finding matching cards and helps develop memory, as well. “For stroke patients, many times I’ve used word-find puzzles because they can’t do crossword puzzles,” Dr. Wilson said. “And we have workbooks with simplified crossword puzzles that list word choices. It helps with the word-finding problem, which is typical of people with aphasia.”

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