Dementia is a horrific illness. From the outside, you see a person who was once so vibrant and strong reduced to an echo of who they once were. Alzheimer’s is often called ‘The Long Goodbye’ and it describes it well. And yet to fall victim to it must be indescribably worse. The mental faculties you have taken for granted the whole of your life become unreliable and that which was once certain is replaced with uncertainty and fear.
Sorry. This is not what you want to read on a blog about chess, but chess is the reason for this entry’s somber intro. A study was published in June examining whether chess could be a preventative measure against degenerative mental illnesses. (A shoutout to Dr. Alex Vasserman DMD who first showed me the paper.) The initial hypothesis was not particularly radical; there are existing studies demonstrating that stimulative mental exercise can deter and delay the progress of the disease, and what is chess if not the epitome of mental exercise? Nonetheless, this study is valuable for examining the precise impact of regular chess practice on dementia-vulnerable populations. While might be obvious that chess is a mentally-demanding game, it is worthwhile to understand some of the science behind it. Chess encompasses a number of key areas of cognition: memory, short and long-term, critical thinking, and visual–spatial ability. By engaging these multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, chess can be a preventive factor when these areas might otherwise atrophy from disuse. There is still much research to be done on both the neurodegenerative diseases and preventative measures, but this study is one more great step to understanding and doing away with dementia.
So consider making a weekly chess game part of your routine, if nothing else it’s great fun!