Thursday, April 10, 2014
Vigorous Mental Exercise and Alzheimer's Disease
For many years, I have been suggesting that chess impacts Alzheimer's and other age-related diseases and symptoms by decreasing risk factors in some meaningful way. It wasn't an original idea, of course, as I was convinced about 15 years ago by octogenarians Arnold Denker and Harold Dondis who both claimed that they had never met, or even heard of, a chess Grandmaster with Alzheimer's Disease. Small sample size to be sure, but not even one?
More recently, I renewed the discussion with my wife, Tash, who is actively working on her PhD in gerontology (the study of aging) at the University of Kentucky. And now, with the new Journal of Chess Research about to launch, I have become a voracious consumer of all things written and available (in English at least) on the subject of chess research, with a special focus and interest in chess and aging.
My personal interest in gerontology is narrow, but genuine. It involves not only the game of chess, but the sport of distance running as well (but that's another topic), and how chess impacts social capital, improves inter-generational awareness and slows down the aging process -- or perhaps, as Tash would argue, utilizes high level mental gymnastics in a way that re-wires the brain to compensate for Alzheimer's Disease. In other words, playing chess doesn't prevent or cure Alzheimer's, but it helps seniors cope with it better.
Still, there is no generally accepted body of scientific evidence to support that statement...yet. But it's coming. Of this I am certain.