Bridge Players Challenge Their Brains and Dementia in Old Age

There was a recent article in the NY Times about a group of women in their nineties who play bridge daily. The card game is their social network, their mental challenge, and their reason for dressed in their good clothes, Bridge is their way of life. These women are part of what is called a super memory club for the one person in 200 among us who live pass 90 without a trace of dementia.

Driven in large part by the baby boomers, contract bridge is experiencing a resurgence. Picking up the card game in college boomers neglected the game to start a career and raise families. Now with the average age of a bridge player at 51, it is evident the boomers are back at the card table. Ask any bridge player and they will tell you that not only does bridge keep you smarter longer, the card game can also make you smarter in the first place.

Other research shows that typical cognitive decline associated with longevity can be fended off, at least to a degree, by a lifestyle that involves social engagement and activities that are mentally challenging. It is often reported that being alone is not only sad but it can lead to earlier dementia, other illnesses and premature death. That is one of the reasons that developers of programs that help seniors stay in their homes emphasize cultural activities as an essential part of healthy aging.

Researchers are also saying that it is important to keep challenging your brain but not all activities are equal. It seems that people who spend long stretches of their days, three hours or more, engrossed with a mental activity such as with cards may be better able to reduce their risk of dementia than 30 minutes of working a puzzle.

Scientists have also learned that after the age of 90 the dementia does not taper off like so many thought. Dementia continues to increase so that if you live to 95 you may be among the 40 percent diagnosed with dementia.

The University of California, Irvine, is researching the gated retirement village of Laguna Woods in southern Orange County. They regularly run genetic tests, test resident memories. Many of the subjects also play bridge on a regular basis.

Playing bridge requires a good memory. It involves 4 players, paired off, and each player has to figure out the strategy of his partner by following what is played. Good players remember every card dealt and their importance to their team. In the Laguna group, when one of the players starts to slip and others can not trust, they stop calling that person for games.Most researchers also agree that social networking is critical. Bridge offers chances for outside contact and memory recall. It also offers a chance to learn new things because very few people master the game and are always going to class to learn more.

Bridge works its magic through complexity. Players much remember the cards played which builds memory skills. Players must plan ahead, make strategy, and use logic, all of which challenge and stimulate the brain. Plus bridge is played in groups and again social interaction helps to decrease intellectual decline.