Board Game Helps Seniors with Memory Loss

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A browse through any big-box store’s toy department will uncover versions of the classic board game Monopoly with themes reflecting fixtures of popular culture that range from “Bridgerton” and painter Bob Ross to Star Wars and Godzilla.

A new board game making the rounds at area assisted living centers and skilled care homes takes cards referencing local events, figures and attractions that are intended to stimulate the minds of players as well as offer amusement.

Youngstown Way Back was developed by the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County marketing specialist Savannah Florkowski and graphic artist Mandy Tucker. It is circulated through the library branches to people who live in congregate settings like nursing homes and assisted living centers, says Aimee Fifarek, library director and CEO,

“With this population, the idea of supporting memory exercises and giving people the opportunity to come together and stave off loneliness is a very significant challenge. So engaging that population is really important to us,” Fifarek says.

The game is the brainchild of Judy Sluss, who has led the special delivery department for several years. Sluss suggested it as a way to memorialize local history in a form that people who grew up in the area 60 or more years ago could recognize, as well as to encourage interaction and engagement.

“Judy works with a lot of these facilities and she was talking with them about how to boost memory,” Maggie Henderson says. Henderson is the strategic communications officer at the library.

Sluss emailed marketing specialist Florkowski with her idea for the board game, including a suggested design.

“Judy is always sending me her crazy ideas and hoping I can do something,” Florkowski says. She worked with Tucker to help to develop the initial version, which began circulating in February.

Components of the game were made in-house, with the exception of the large foam dice, which were purchased. The game board measures 40 by 40 inches. It was crafted at the print shop in the Main Library and the cars used as game pieces were 3D-printed at the maker space in the Michael Kusalaba Branch on the West Side.

The board features a route, similar to games like The Game of Life and Chutes and Ladders, laid over a Mahoning County map crossing into county communities, leading to the library as the final destination.

In addition, the board includes familiar historic images such as the moon landing, the V-J Day in Times Square photograph that appeared on the cover of Life magazine and a photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he delivered one of his fireside chats.

Select spaces direct players to draw from Flat Tire cards – which instruct the player to lose a turn or move back a certain number of “miles,” or spaces.  Book cards allow the player to advance spaces and are connected to some aspect of library offerings, such as career services or periodicals. Both sets of cards reference local figures, landmarks or events, including Isaly’s, Black Monday and the Uptown Theater.

“It’s really nicely done,” Fifarek says. The game pieces are sized so that players who have dexterity problems can move them on their own.

Using the nostalgia of places, dates and historic events that people might remember from earlier in their lives is a good way to jog their memories as well as to form a community within the residential centers where they live, Henderson says.

“The whole point of this game is about memory and community and helping the folks remember not only what was happening during this timeframe but what was happening in their lives,” she says. “We are a library and we like to continue to educate.

A redesigned version incorporated changes suggested by people at the senior care centers where it has circulated and make the board more durable. The revised game was introduced in June.

Some of the suggested improvements included changing the font on the cards so they were bolder and easier to read and to add more Flat Tire and Book action cards, Florkowski says.

“And then we just added more designs in the back … just to make it pop a little bit more,” she adds.

“Each time that [the game] comes back the facilities have suggestions or they have additional historical events or their own memories that they would like to be incorporated,” Henderson says.

The game also is circulated with a copy of the book “Hidden History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley,” written by local historian and author Sean Posey. The book is a resource for players who have questions or are interested in learning more about events and figures referenced in the game.

Those interested in borrowing the game can contact the library’s special delivery department. Currently just one copy is available for circulation.

“I’m sure if the need became greater, we would create more,” Florkowski says.

Pictured at top: Aimee Fifarek, Savannah Florkowski and Maggie Henderson demonstrate the Youngstown Way Back game.