Playing poker helps prevent suffering from Alzheimer's

Jun 19, 2012 3:00 AM

We have previously written about Alzheimer’s as it relates to the game of poker. The other evening I received the “Mental Health Newsletter” from Newsmax Health. Its message is loud and clear:

As we age, we are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, which robs people of their memories.

“Experts are alarmed at the sharp rise in the rates of cognitive decline in this country. If you plan on living into your 80s (hey, I’m already 85!), then your chances of suffering from significant cognitive decline are as high as 50%.”

Prevention is our best bet.

To cite a few more significant statements from the Newsletter: According to the National Institute on Aging, available drugs only treat the symptoms, not cure Alzheimer’s. Research at the University of Virginia suggests the disease can actually start as early as age 37.

There are a number of warning signs: slow recall, fuzzy memory, losing things, poor judgment (that would be “deadly” at the poker table), low mental energy, withdrawal from activities, difficulty completing tasks, problems recalling words, confusion with time or place, and changes in mood and personality.

I believe everyone develops some of these signs as they age, but playing poker can slow the development and hold back Alzheimer’s for the rest of our lives. So if you are a retiree, get over to your local senior center and ask the director to get a poker group started. I would be glad to offer suggestions based on our experience over the past seven years.

Furthermore, playing recreational poker is a wonderful means of social interaction, essential to our well-being.

Having observed how Alzheimer’s turned my mother-in-law, a bright, energetic lady, into someone who could no longer recognize her family, could no longer feed herself and ultimately even forgot how to swallow food, and could get out of bed and walk only with assistance – and gave up blackjack and poker – I know how terrible this disease can be.

There is hope

I do not doubt the warnings and efficacy of berries and other nutrients advocated in the “Mental Health Newsletter.” Better yet, I do offer hope for poker players with or without the nutrients. Based on my observations of the members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group, many of whom play poker only one afternoon a week when we gather at the senior center.

Medical prescription: Play poker.

Our poker group is now seven years old and it has grown from a handful – six members, to over 200 today. Nobody seems to have developed Alzheimer’s.

With ages ranging from early 50 to over 90, we have a reasonable sample. None have “lost” to Alzheimer’s. Perhaps I am going out on a limb when I predict those of us who participate in poker will suffer far less incidence of Alzheimer’s than the general population of comparable age.

There appears also to be a medical basis for this prediction. Referring to my March 6 column, a member of our group (now in her 90s and active as a volunteer in the community) who was a neurologist – her husband was a brain surgeon – explained:

“Playing poker stimulates the brain, causing the synapses (connectors between brain cells) to flourish, thereby leading to a healthier mind. And thus poker players are much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.”

In addition, the brain is responsible for hormones, enzymes and other chemicals produced in our bodies, thereby leading to a healthier body. Besides, playing poker is lots of fun. It can even be profitable.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and poker teacher in West Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame. Contact him at [email protected]