Having productive conversations about food and nutrition with elders or even their family members can be challenging. Barriers include cultural or language issues, cognitive impairment, and shame or embarrassment. To help encourage communication and discussions, United Kingdom-based Focus Games has developed several educational games designed to encourage people to explore various scenarios in a risk-free way.

One such game is Food In Later Life, which helps ensure that older people continue to access and enjoy food as they get older. “This game was tested with a variety of groups and is used in care homes and other settings where older people come together,” says Andy Yeoman, Focus Games director and co-founder. “It is socializing and enjoyable, but it also educates them about the importance of good nutrition and encourages them to make positive changes and choices.” Other games that nursing center staff can use with caregivers, patients, and families regarding nutrition include The Nutrition Game and The Hydration Game.

“By engaging in these learning experiences, players utilize higher thinking skills, while enjoying a fun and stress-free learning process that enables them to retain knowledge,” says Yeoman. “Studies showed that using collaboration in educational games improves communication and teamwork, while challenging people to maximize their team’s performance.”

The games, says Yeoman, can help people address difficult or emotionally charged issues. “They gently encourage people to look at aspects of their behavior in a more comfortable way,” he says. For example, elders may be too embarrassed to admit that they forget to eat sometimes, that they can’t afford to eat better, that they are afraid of choking, or that it hurts to chew crunchy or tough foods. “People find conversations much less threatening with the game. It’s a way to help people focus on issues that they are inclined to ignore and just not talk about,” Yeoman says.