Mind sports could help older adults improve cognitive performance and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s

By Special to AL.com
on May 09, 2013 at 9:00 AM, updated May 09, 2013 at 9:04 AM
By Michael Ciamarra

You’ve read the headline of this article. Interesting you think. You nod and move on. What if you notice that you forgot what you just had read a moment ago?

It’s those little things that begin to make you concerned – misplaced keys, forgetting to shut the refrigerator door, driving home forgetting which way you turn to get there. What happens when you cannot remember the person sitting across from you who happens to also be your spouse?

Many know this reality all too well – especially if you are a caregiver or have seen the devastation of Alzheimer’s in your immediate family.

The never ending data is alarming and staggering.

Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in 2013, 450,000 Americans will die with Alzheimer’s disease. Estimates are that 7 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by 2025 — a 40 percent increase.

By 2050, cost of care for Alzheimer’s is projected to balloon from $203 billion in 2013 to $1.2 trillion, 70 percent of which will be covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Nearly 14.5 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care. Those numbers will rise over the next decade as well.

Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s or dementia so as our population continues to age the prevalence of the disease will continue to grow. Closer to home, almost 53,000 Alabama citizens are living with Alzheimer’s. In Alabama, by 2025 there will be a 31 percent increase in the disease.

The latest data underscore the need for an urgent global response, including a strong investment in research, to stop the emerging Alzheimer’s crisis.

Fortunately, policymakers are recognizing this urgency about investment, research and education. The White House recently unveiled a $100 million dollar BRAIN Initiative and that will take a very important step toward the most dramatic breakthroughs in human health. Brain research is vital for Autism, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, mental health, and a host of other concerns.

What can be done to stop the disease or slow it down in the meantime? There exists an intriguing activity that could, indeed, slow or stop the disease.

A recent National Institute of Health/National Institute on Aging publication “Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?” is fascinating. The front cover of the document featured two seniors playing chess! The document affirms that, “Staying cognitively active … through mentally stimulating activities … such as playing games are linked to keeping the mind sharp.”

Further, it suggests that the reasons why an active brain prevents Alzheimer’s may be, “Such activities may protect the brain by establishing ‘cognitive reserve,’ the brain’s ability to operate effectively even when it is damaged or some brain function is disrupted.”

Harvard Medical School last month noted, “… exposing the brain to novel activities in particular provided greater protection against Alzheimer’s disease than just aerobic exercise.”

Does playing chess or any mind sport prevent Alzheimer’s? Could this nearly 1,800 year-old game hold a key to keeping your thinking healthy and engaged? Could chess or other mind sports be one of the “preventions” to ward off the 6th largest killer disease in the US?

Chess is in fact a particularly good brain builder. It is a fairly easy game to learn. It takes a little practice but you can play it very quickly and the possibilities of play are endless.

Playing games like chess can stimulate our minds, increase our social interactions with others and possibly reduce stress, but when it comes to reducing risk of Alzheimer’s, the type, variety and frequency of the games we play is key.

More here.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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