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Does Chess Help People With Alzheimer’s Disease?

Jan 2011: 79 yr-old Korchnoi Beats 18 yr-old Caruana (FIDE 2720)

1.26.2011:  79 yr-old Korchnoi Beats 18 yr-old Caruana (FIDE 2720)

Nearly everyone has a close family member or friend that is afflicted by mental dementia or Alzheimer’s. Current treatment methods combine medication and behavioral approaches to reduce the effect and growth of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), however there is no complete cure.  Recent research indicates that playing chess can reduce the risk of AD by up to 75% (see details below).  GM Viktor Korchnoi certainly comes to mind, as he celebrated his 80th birthday this year and maintains an active FIDE rating of 2553!  A recent experiment also suggested evidence that caffeine consumption could help prevent and/or treat AD (see details below).  If the horribly debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and Mental Dementia can be combated by a daily chess game and a cup of coffee – Why not give it a shot?

Caruana Vs Korchnoi – Gibraltar 2011 – Final Position (0-1)

Research from various articles:

Alz.org states that in 2011 “There are nearly 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers providing 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $202 billion… Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. Based on mortality data from 2000-2008, death rates have declined for most major diseases while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have risen 66 percent during the same period.”

Professor Verghese stated that:
“It is similar to the physical state.  If you exercise and build up muscles then you become more resistant to injury and other illnesses.  If you exercise your brain then you are also more resistant to the effects of dementing illnesses such as Alzheimers.  If you challenge the brain you lay down new connections and promote growth of new cells in areas which are affected by Alzheimers”.  The day may not be far off, according to Professor Verghese, “when doctors recommend a game of chess along with physical exercise and a healthy diet.”

According to further research by Doctor Gene Cohen, the Director of the Centre for Ageing, Health and Humanities at George Washington University:

“Challenging your brain can have positive effects.  The plasticity of the brain is directly related to the production of new dendrites, the branched, tree-like neural projections that carry electrical signals through the brain.  Every time you challenge your brain it will actually modify the brain.  We can indeed form new brain cells, despite a century of being told that it’s impossible.”

“Challenging your brain can have positive effects [on your mental health] …  

Excerpt from chessville.com

“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.

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.  (MSnbc).

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 (About.com).  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.  About.com 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 brainactivities!  Without a specific cause, therapy can only address the symptoms and also delay the onset.

Chess, A treatment that works!

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.

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.”

From the June 19, 2003 New England Journal of Medicine:
“Use It or Lose It — Do Effortful Mental Activities Protect against Dementia?”
Joseph T. Coyle, M.D.

Excerpt from http://adamporth.blogspot.com/

By Chess Coach Will Stewart (USCF 2256, FIDE 2234)
Articles quoted & exerpted from various sources cited within the article.

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