Why do you play poker?
There may be several good reasons. Most poker players will respond to this question: “To win money, of course.” That’s certainly essential for poker pros who depend on poker for their livelihoods. But most of us are recreational players.
Basically, for us, money is a way to keep score. Perhaps we play for the mental challenge, or social interaction. Certainly, there is plenty of that. Hopefully, it’s not an addiction.
You may recall a column by Irene Edith, published in Gaming Today a year or so ago. At that time, she was following up on a column I had previously written about how playing poker might help us to avoid Alzheimer’s, that horrible disease that causes steadily worsening cognitive dementia, and, ultimately, death.
Despite the billions (trillions?) of dollars spent over many years, no medical means or drugs have been developed to conquer that dreaded disease — even as more and more people become afflicted. Approximately 47 million people around the world are believed to suffer from dementia.
Years ago, I had observed that none of the over 200 members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group had suffered from this disease and continued to function well into their 80’s and 90’s (I’ll admit to being 92.) While this is not definitive proof, it does suggest what might well be a viable approach to solving the Alzheimer’s problem which has defied all medical research to date.
The other day, Irene contacted me and sent me a copy of a recent publication from Senior Concerns, a non-profit organization that serves seniors and their caregivers. Authored by Andrea Gallagher, president of Senior Concerns, who has helped countless seniors as they grow into old age, the document explores playing games to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Gallagher asked groups of seniors, what can we do to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s? Some of the more common answers were playing games such as crossword puzzles, chess, or sudoku. Apparently, the game of poker was not considered. Gallagher commented: “Each one of these answers is right but also wrong, because simply playing games falls short of what we can do to reduce our risk of dementia.”
She explained that the type, variety and frequency of the games we play is key. Games and activities that stimulate all six cognitive areas of the brain at the same time are the most beneficial. That’s reasonable.
The cognitive areas are:
1. Short-term memory
2. Long-term memory
3. Language — the use and form of words
4. Calculation — the use of numbers, including the assessment of risks, possibilities and the effects of a course of action
5. Visuospatial — the visual perception of objects
6. Critical thinking — the ability to analyze and evaluate situations.
She added that there is evidence that the more complex the activity, the less likely you are to develop dementia. In addition, the larger your social network, the less likely you will develop dementia, especially if the social connections are meaningful. Playing poker certainly is complex and involves extensive social interactions.
Of all the games with which I am familiar, only poker can meet Andrea Gallagher’s criteria to stimulate all six cognitive areas in the brain, all at the same time. Playing sports has little effect on the language, calculation and critical thinking cognitive areas of the brain.
Chess comes close but fails to stimulate the language and calculation cognitive areas. In this regard, poker seems to be our best bet. Hopefully, it will be part of future research studies, including studies by Senior Concerns and its partners.
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