“Checkmate the Onset of Dementia”: Prescribing Chess to Elderly People as a Primary Prevention of Dementia
by Ivan Fernández Vega, MD PhD on 25 January 2019
It is estimated that around 45 million people in the world suffer from dementia, most of them over 60 years old. With increases in life expectancy, this incidence is projected to double every 20 years . In fact, dementia affects 13.9% of persons aged 71 years and older and 37.4% of those over 90 . Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disease and it is one of the greatest health-care challenges of the 21st century. AD inevitably leads to death, although patients frequently die of the complications of other chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes [1, 3]. Interestingly, the prevalence of dementia in the United States among those aged 65 or older decreased significantly between 2000 and 2012. Increased levels of educational attainment have been linked to this decline in dementia prevalence, but the full set of social, behavioral, and medical factors that contributed to the decline remains unclear . These days we are aware that the greatest risk factor for the development of AD is old age, but this in itself is not enough to cause the disease. Other major risk factors include the presence of one or more apolipoprotein gene E4 alleles, low educational and occupational attainment, family history of AD, moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries, and cardiovascular risk factors [5, 6]. Despite decades of study, there is to date no disease-modifying therapy against AD in particular or dementia in general. However, around a third of AD cases worldwide could be attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors [7, 8]. Interventions that postpone dementia onset by even two years would cut projected dementia prevalence in 2047 by 22% .
Normal cognitive aging (NCA) may be influenced not only by our genes but also by our lifestyle. Healthy aging, which incorporates stimulation of the mind, means revitalizing the brain and replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits. Patients with AD have reduced activity levels (physical and mental) in mid-life compared with healthy control-group subjects . Educational and occupational attainment have been found to protect against the development of the disease in a ‘‘use it or lose it’’ scenario, but participation in activities has received little attention . According to various scientific indications, playing chess frequently delays NCA . Neuroplasticity tells us about the importance of practice (repetitive engagement in activities that enhance brain health) if one wants to markedly improve brain function. Animal studies have found that a little daily stress may enhance neuronal and synaptic function, promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus, and improve cognitive performance in certain tasks .
Here there are twelve reasons to support the use of chess in the primary prevention of dementia:
Chess is universal.
Chess is cheap.
Chess is a very complete activity: game, sport, art, and science. It provides very interesting connections between art and science .
Chess has been documented for more than 15 centuries.
Chess develops intelligence at any age, and particularly with children .
Chess delays NCA [12, 16]. It also produces small amounts of stress which improves neuroplasticity.
Chess has been shown to be very useful in various problem social contexts: in prisons, with drug addicts, the unprivileged, people who have panic attacks, and with hyperactive or autistic children [17, 18].
Chess produces fascinating personalities. For instance, the world chess champion and genius Bobby Fisher.
Chess is the only sport that can be played on the Internet. You can also meet people across the world because of chess and put into practice your social skills. There are many consolidated platforms such as Chess24, Chessbase, Lichess, iChess, etc.
Chess has many variants that can be a great way to mix things up and apply your chess skills in different and exciting ways. The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants estimates that there are well over 2,000 different variants.
Chess can be played on some platforms that are universally accessible. Chess can be concurrently played by people with different abilities and preferences, including people with disabilities (e.g., people with hand-motor or visual impairment or who are blind).
Chess bestows a good image on those who play and sponsor it.
Finally, work has recently been published indicating that “speed of processing training” resulted in an almost 30% reduction in the risk of developing dementia . This is the first study to show that any intervention (behavioral or pharmacological) can lower the risk of dementia, supporting the notion that playing chess should be part of this brain booster training.
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Last comment on 31 January 2019 by Soraya Valles, PhD