You might very well ask, “What does the game of poker have to do with Alzheimer’s disease?” Let me explain…
The other day, I was pleased to learn that researchers at the University of Southern California are hoping to beat Alzheimer’s disease. They are developing a chemical that is designed to battle beta-amyloid, the plaque that has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s – that terrible disease that destroys a person’s mental capabilities, their cognitive ability to think and communicate – ultimately leading to an early death.
While there have been repeated failures in this approach, Dr. Paul Aisen, director of USC’s Therapeutic Research Institute, is hopeful this time. What makes this trial stand out from earlier beta-amyloid studies is the fact that it will target amyloid in the brains of people who are in a “pre-clinical stage” of Alzheimer’s. In this stage, there’s evidence of amyloid accumulation, but no symptoms yet – a state that can last years, and even decades, leading up to the disease.
Over the years, countless millions of dollars and research hours have been expended trying all sorts of cures and means to significantly slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s – without any success. Let’s hope this will be different.
Our Poker Hypothesis
Meanwhile, I have a hypothesis for a whole new approach. I have observed that people who play poker to a significant extent apparently do not develop Alzheimer’s, and that seems — to me at least — to be unique to poker as opposed to other casino games like roulette, craps, or people who play baccarat live. Like all others, as we age, our mental abilities do decline; but, to my knowledge, no poker player that I know of has developed that dreadful disease. (How about you? What have you observed?) Admittedly, my statistics are quite limited. But I do include about 200 poker players who are or were members of our Claude Pepper Seniors’ Poker Group. While some have died over the years, to my knowledge, none ever developed Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia.
In fact, Dr. Alan Schoonmaker, a highly regarded poker psychologist, wrote about my observations in his recent book, Stay Young; Play Poker.
Of course, none of this is substantial proof. We need much more statistical data to be gathered and analyzed.
But, if you think about it, my hypothesis is plausible. It does make good sense. Just as we exercise our bodies to strengthen our muscles to keep them strong and healthy, the mental challenges involved in playing poker can strengthen our brain functions. From what I have read, mental exercises can build healthy brain cells (neurons) and increase the synapses that connect these in our brains.
Some experts recognize that doing puzzles and playing other mentally challenging games may help. Even more reason to make the effort to gather the data and then decide if the correlation is statistically significant. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association or other non-profit could partner with the casinos to do a survey of the millions of poker players and their families.
It’s a fact that playing the game of poker stimulates our thinking process. Can it prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? I think so.
Your comments and suggestions are welcome. Do you know of any former poker player who developed Alzheimer’s? Contact: [email protected].