Thursday, December 2, 2010

Alzheimer's Avoids Chess Players like the Plague

PET scan showing a) distinguishing pieces and b) evaluating a capture
     A report filed in 2003, in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that chess and other brain activities, like crosswords and reading, delays the onset of Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, and other mental illnesses (ABC).
     Alzheimer's Disease is a debilitating disease that affects the elderly and the families that need to care for them.  Pre-senility actually begins in the 40s and 50s and progresses to dementia and total senility, or helplessness (Princeton)
    Alzheimer's Disease is the leading mental illness in elderly and the number of cases is expected to rise sharply in the near future as baby-boomers approach retirement age between 60 - 70 years old. The need to prevent and treat the disease is a priority for medical scientists that will be caring for these people.  Currently, there are 5.3 million people with Alzheimer's Disease in the U.S. and 26 million worldwide.  By 2050, the number will quadruple and nearly 1 in 85 people will be affected (MSnbc).
Neuron affected by Alzheimer's
     Symptoms include memory loss that disrupts daily life, planning and problem solving challenges, time and place confusion, difficulty completing common or routine tasks, speech difficulties, misplacing items, social withdrawl, poor judgement and emotion/mood changes (Alzheimer's Association).  Brains of Alzheimer's patients have plaques and tangles, or a protein build-up between nerve cells and protein build-up inside nerve cells, respectivly (  Plaques and tangles tend to develop as people age, however, patients with Alzheimer's have many more than average.  

Scientists are at a loss as to what the actual cause is. reports that age, family history, diet, and lifestyle factors increase the risk.  Recently, Dr. Robert Friedlander, lead scientist of this report suggested television is also a risk factor among other passive brain activities!  Without a specific cause, therapy can only address the symptoms and also delay the onset.
      Chess seems like a treatment that works.  In fact, people over the age of 75 that partake in leisure activities that stimulate the brain were less likely to develop signs of dementia (Healthy Living).  Research shows that chess affects specific areas of the brain and the stimulation will shift with the problems that a chess player faces during the game.  And the game lends itself to a variety of complexities from various patterns to complex calculations that stimulate players' brains.  Dr. Friedlander says that people who don't exercise their gray matter stand a chance of losing brain power when they age.
Interview with Shenk on Chess and Alzheimer's (click to go to video)
     A five year study with 488 participants showed that involvement in at least 11 mind exercising activities per week versus a control group that engaged in 4 or less activities per week, delayed by 1.3 years (Dr. Charles B. Hall, PhD, author of the study and Saul R. Korep Department of Neurology professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine).  A further analysis demonstrated those that played only games reduced their risk by 75% and those that played musical instruments reduced theirs by 64%.   Crossword puzzle enthusiasts get a 38% lowered risk.  
     Scientists are still at a loss to determine the actual cause of Alzheimer's Disease but with nearly 100 million future Alzheimer's victims in development, we best start writing prescriptions for chess sets for Christmas.

Of course, you can support the WRHS Chess Club by purchasing one of ours and help us get to a national tournament.

From the June 19, 2003 New England Journal of Medicine:

Use It or Lose It — Do Effortful Mental Activities Protect against
Joseph T. Coyle, M.D.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Of all the things I could lose, I fear losing my mind the most. Fortunately, I can now expect to go insane as a result of chess, rather than become senile due to a lack of it. Madness is so much more fun than dementia.


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