Playing poker is great brain exercise as we grow older

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As we age, we gain wisdom: We are better able to make prudent decisions with less information. In as much as poker is a game of partial information, this works in our favor – as we get older.

But dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – that’s another matter!

It is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.

Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from AD. As we age, the more likely we are to acquire this ominous disease and the odds double that we will get it after we turn 65. It’s even more likely to happen to us after retirement if we don’t participate in mentally challenging activities – such as playing poker.

According to the University of California-Berkeley Wellness Letter of October 2011, “people with an active life – mentally, physically and socially – tend to be healthier and have a lower risk of mental decline and dementia as they age.”

The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia (Oct. 2010) goes a bit further: “Although there is no proven way to prevent AD, there are some practices that may be worth incorporating into your daily routine. These include a healthy diet; maintaining a normal blood pressure; and staying mentally and socially active.”

There it is: As far as I know, there is no better way to stay mentally and socially active than playing poker! Interacting with other people is a wonderful way to stay socially active. That’s especially so when playing in a home game or in a casino.

Certainly, there are other recommended mind-challenging activities, including crossword and Sudoku puzzles, but they don’t offer much in the way of social activity.

As for mental activity, trying to gain information – evaluating your opponents, observing their playing traits and tells – really exercises our minds.

Here are some ways to do it:

• Using the hold’em algorithm.

• Considering your betting position.

• Playing against a “maniac.”

• Estimating the card odds vs. the pot odds to get a Positive Expectation.

• Selecting the best situations for raising.

• Attempting to bluff your opponent, while making decisions important to your success at the poker table.

What better ways to stay mentally active!

ONE STEP FURTHER

OK, so we understand how poker helps us to stay mentally healthy. And there is yet another significant plus:

Several years ago, the wife of one of my students in the Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group, came over to me while we were being hosted at a local casino.

“I want to thank you, George,” she began. Needless to say, I was taken aback – caught off guard, puzzled. “What do you mean, Lila?”

She explained: Her husband, Julian, a retired attorney in the movie industry, had several serious medical problems at the time he joined our seniors poker group a year earlier. Now, his lab tests had produced the best results in years.

No longer did he need the walker to get around. He felt much better overall.

“His doctors could hardly believe it,” she added. “We know it was because he is playing poker,” having learned the strategies and tactics in our poker classes at the senior center.

That baffled me. It just so happened, standing next to us was an elderly woman who had been a neurologist before she retired. (Her deceased husband was a brain surgeon.)

She explained that our brain is responsible for producing many chemicals such as hormones and enzymes that are essential to our health. A healthy mind leads to a healthier body!

I often tell this story. Yes, you can play poker for your health.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and poker teacher at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center and West Los Angeles College, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. E-mail George at [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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