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Alzheimer’s disease – one of the leading causes of death – continues to defy all attempts by pharmaceutical companies, both large and small, to develop a drug that is effective in preventing or curing it. This disease dramatically attacks millions of people’s brains. Well over 200 compounds have been developed in the pharmaceutical labs; all have been failures.

Alzheimer’s afflicts 5.3 million people in the U.S. That number is expected to balloon by 2025, far exceeding the broader population projected growth of about 25% during that time.

It destroys one’s memory, causes increasing forgetfulness, confusion, disorientation; and, ultimately, trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations. Over time, it affects the ability to eat food, read and write.

In the later stages, the person is unable to make judgments and decisions. Once-routine activities, such as cooking a meal or playing a favorite game – even poker, become a struggle as the disease progresses. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer’s forget how to perform basic tasks such as dressing and bathing.

There are changes in personality and behavior, the way one acts and feels. Alzheimer’s victims often experience depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, mood swings, distrust in others, irritability and aggressiveness, wander away from home, lose inhibitions, and experience delusions.

It is by far our most expensive affliction. In 2014, the cost of caring for patients was $214 billion! The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that cost could skyrocket to over $1 trillion per year by 2050 if the current trend continues unabated.

But there may be some good news. Growing evidence points to mentally stimulating activities – such as playing poker – and exercise as key to defeating Alzheimer’s by preventing accumulation of beta-amyloid around the brain cells. They also seem to help by stimulating growth of new blood vessels and keeping existing vessels open and functional.

A study of 469 people aged 75 and older found those who played games (cards, chess, checkers, backgammon), and participated at least twice weekly in reading, playing musical instruments, and dancing, were significantly less likely to develop dementia. (A plug for senior citizen centers!)

Although no organized studies have been conducted related to playing the game of poker, George “The Engineer” Epstein’s seniors poker group (over 200 members) reports none are known to have developed Alzheimer’s. Perhaps the Poker Players Association (PPA) might conduct such a study.

Meanwhile, evidence has suggested those who did crossword puzzles four days a week had a much lower risk of dementia than those who did only one puzzle a week. More is better. How many times a week do you play poker?

Another study of 700 seniors found that more frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities, such as card games (like poker), reading books, newspapers or magazines, or engaging in crosswords, significantly reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A more recent comprehensive review of the research on “cognitive reserve” – 22 studies – involving 29,000 individuals, concluded complex mental activity – such as playing the game of poker – almost halves the risk of dementia. Encouragingly, all the studies also agreed it was never too late to build cognitive reserve. Exercise your brain by playing poker! Keep it healthy.

We invite your comments. Email: [email protected].

Why is poker so effective?

Poker is a game of decisions: Should I pay to see the flop? Should I raise – or reraise? Should I bluff or semi-bluff? My opponent just gave a tell; what does it mean? With my monster hand (lucky me), should I slow-play or check-raise? Is this table too tight – or too aggressive – for me? Should I change tables? Should I change my seat to one just to the left of that maniac at my table? How can I best deal with the inherent variance? I am getting tired so is this the time to quit the game?

 Decisions – decisions, and lots of mental challenges, hand after hand; 30 or more hands each hour. That is the key to preventing Alzheimer’s.

We invite your comments. Email to [email protected].

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