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Brains Get a Workout in New Games

Consider ditching your controllers and stylus pens and cracking the lid on a new board game or two this New Year's Eve.

Some of the newest games are reminiscent of familiar childhood favorites and have positive mental and social health perks, too, say brain experts. A couple of new board games even come with a little celebrity appeal.

"We want to encourage people to sit around the table and play with each other and connect. To laugh and enjoy each other," says actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah, who is touting her new "parlor" games LIEbrary and Call-it! this season. Hannah designed the games with her best friend, Hilary Shepard, a writer and actress.

"We've been best friends since we were 16. We used to have game nights with our friends," says Hannah, who explains that while on a trip to Hawaii years ago, they stayed in a house without many books or games. It spurred the two to create their own.

Don't let the literary ones scare you, either, says Hannah. "People think, 'Oh, I need to be educated! Oh, books!' But playing them actually will give you confidence in your creative and writing abilities."

And while there is no proof yet that brain games can protect you from dementia or Alzheimer's, games that are social in nature can be beneficial because they promote brain activity, says Maria Carrillo, senior director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association.

"We know socialization and mental activity have been shown in some communities to help maintain brain health as we age," says Carrillo.

Older family members already struggling with memory loss may enjoy games that rely more on long-term memories (newer memory is usually the first to diminish), says Jeffrey Burns, director of the Alzheimer and Memory Program at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

And for the rest of the family, lounging by the fire with a creative game and some fine company can be just the thing to take the chill off this New Year's Eve.

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