Poker a fantastic way to keep the mind sharp as we age
June 13, 2017 3:00 AM
by George Epstein
Several months ago GamingToday published a rather special and unique column I had written, entitled “Skillfully after a cure to Alzheimer’s.” By coincidence, the Los Angeles Times has just included a 12-page insert entitled “Healthy Living.” Subtitle is “Improve your brain with some help from science.” Sol G., a friend I have made at the Freda Mohr Senior Center, gave me a copy.
Well over 5.4 million people in the U.S. are known to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. One in ten over age 65 is infected. Despite billions of dollars invested over several decades by the pharmaceutical industry, there is yet no medical cure for this progressive, neurodegenerative disease that severely cuts life expectancy to 3-9 years after diagnosis. It is one of the most financially costly diseases, impacting millions of families. In addition to new drugs, Alzheimer’s research organizations are also looking at dietary therapies, food supplements, and even medical devices.
The L.A. Times’ insert provides much relevant information that may interest many poker players, including “How We Remember;” what is “normal forgetfulness” (as we age); various possible causes of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, advice for caregivers, and an interview with a middle-aged man who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 55, and now anticipates an early death.
In my mind, most intriguing and valuable are the two pages devoted to “Brain Health Tips” that we should all apply. These tips include being physically active; eating “healthy food;” not smoking; getting plenty of sleep; taking precautions against diabetes; avoiding stress and depression to the best of your ability – don’t worry and be happy; being socially involved – don’t be a loner; and lastly (the most important tip in my opinion): mentally challenging your mind – being a life-long learner, working puzzles; “make your brain stay on its toes!”
As pointed out in my previous column in GamingToday, “playing poker requires that we constantly analyze situations and think seriously while making one decision after the other – in fast response, as each hand is being played.” This entails substantial mental challenges! A typical hand of hold’em takes just about two minutes from start to finish, so you have to be actively involved mentally to make the ongoing, never-ending quick decisions – great mental exercise. Surely, such mental exercise is extremely important in making your brain “stay on its toes!”
Being “socially involved,” as suggested in the L.A. Times’ insert, is innate in playing poker – at least when you play in a casino or home game where you interact with living people. As for being physically active, there are exercises you can do while seated at the table without interfering with the other players, including isometrics; and taking a brisk walk as a break from the table can be good physical exercise as well as a means to keep your game on track and avoid going on tilt after a bad beat.
Playing poker may very well be the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. I think you will agree.
Again, I refer you to the recent book by Dr. Alan N. Schoonmaker, poker’s most eminent psychologist: “Stay Young – Play Poker.”
If you agree with me, perhaps you might send a copy of this column to the Alzheimer’s Association in your area.
“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: GeorgeEpstein@GamingToday.com