How Chess Can Help Keep Alzheimer's At Bay
April 27, 2022
3 min read
If you have witnessed a loved one affected by dementia, you know how tough and demanding the battle can be. Forgetting the way to your house or even the names of your children and spouse - as Alzheimer’s worsens, these problems become bigger and bigger and can make you and your loved ones feel overwhelmed and distressed. While modern medicine is yet to come up with a cure for a disease that almost 500,000 people are diagnosed with every year in the United States alone, chess offers an ingenious solution to reduce the risk of developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, or slow its progression for those that have already been diagnosed.
When it comes to your brain, the key is to “use it or lose it.” Our brain is much like the body - it needs to stay active to remain strong and fit. It’s important to continue challenging your brain to prevent the onset of dementia or delay its progression. Chess provides an excellent workout for the brain - it has the capability of constantly triggering the brain through complex patterns and variations, thus reducing cognitive decline. Chess stimulates the six essential cognitive areas of the brain at the same time: short-term memory, long-term memory, language, calculation, visual-spatial, and critical thinking.
Short-term memory is the memory system that remembers information for a short period of time after it’s been understood. Long-term memory is used when we recall something from the vast store of information that’s in our brain.
Chess is an excellent memory booster since it involves memorizing several combinations of moves and their potential outcomes for strategic purposes. Studies have found experienced chess players tend to show higher levels of auditory memory- the ability to remember what you’ve learned through hearing. Chess encourages you to tap into your memory reserves to recall the best moves when faced with similar situations in different games. Since Alzheimer's is essentially related to the loss of memory, chess can be a useful tool to prevent or delay the onset of such memory-related disorders.
Calculation can be understood in two senses - first, the mathematical computation of amounts, and second, the assessment of the risks, possibilities, or effects of a situation or course of action. Chess players need to be highly tactful and calculative. They need to plan several moves ahead, taking into account the consequence of each move, not only their own, but their opponent’s as well, demanding that you be sharp and focused at all times.
Every chess game presents unique problems that require you to come up with smart solutions to excel at your game. Chess compels you to analyze the available facts, in a time bound manner, and carefully weigh the pros and cons of a choice to form the best possible judgment, thus fostering critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Human beings are inherently social creatures. It is almost impossible for us to survive and thrive in isolation (as brought to light in the pandemic). Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness, which is one of the risk factors for dementia. So staying socially active can provide a safeguard against symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Chess is a sport played by people across age groups and professions. Playing chess gives you an opportunity to interact with people from different walks of life and share and learn new ideas. Moreover, joining a chess club may yield rewards in the form of lasting friendships that can be cherished beyond the chess board as well!
Consistently playing, analyzing and improving your game is sure to make you feel confident and optimistic. Seeing tangible results of your hard work and intelligence gives you a sense of joy and accomplishment, which in turn boosts self esteem. You may also feel ready to take up greater challenges, and develop a greater sense of self belief. This is especially pertinent to older adults- who sometimes lose confidence as they are no longer able to perform tasks independently. Playing chess helps them regain their confidence and motivates them to not let age be a deterrent to their goals.
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with risk factors that are sometimes beyond our control. Mind sports like chess, checkers, and bridge are simple, enjoyable and engaging ways to keep our minds stimulated and our spirits elevated. A game of chess in addition to a healthy diet and regular physical exercise can go a long way in keeping the clutches of Alzheimer’s at bay.
Aging is a part of life, but it helps to remember that “It's not how old you are, it's how you are old.”