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Poker Enhances Mental Capacity and Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s in Senior Citizens

May 2, 2022

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As social media feeds become saturated with Wordle scores, many players consider the game to be a way to keep their minds sharp by piecing together the day’s word. Studies have definitely supported this hypothesis, as such games are widely believed to be a positive source of mental exercise. However, those who stick to daily word or puzzle games can be missing out on another strong form of cognitive skill-building activity that’s been played since the 19th century: poker.

While research suggests that playing poker benefits mental alertness and awareness, many experts also believe it can do so more effectively than other common puzzles. Along with building cognitive skills that can lead to enhanced productivity and overall mood, games like Texas Hold’em or Omaha poker can also reduce players’ risk of Alzheimer’s, making poker a valuable tool for senior citizens looking to stay sharp and delay the effects of aging.

Science Proves Poker’s Benefit

Given the prevalence of Alzheimer’s among older demographics, preventative measures are often recommended to delay any potential effects. Research from Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher, includes a 2009 French study that found that poker lowers the risk of developing diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s by up to 50%. This study’s participants included 5,000 elderly individuals who partook in various mental games, of which poker was found to be the most effective for preventing Alzheimer’s and forms of dementia.

Research from Senior Concerns supports poker’s ability to prevent Alzheimer’s, as it found that games are most beneficial when stimulating six cognitive areas – short-term memory, long-term memory, language, calculation, visuospatial and critical thinking – which applies to poker.

Dr. Alan Schoonmaker, who published Stay Young: Play Poker in 2015, found that poker can be more beneficial than other mental exercise programs. Whereas these programs often involve solving puzzles, which many would find difficult to do for more than a few minutes, poker players often spend hours at tables or playing online. Furthermore, the score-keeping system that comes from playing for money can make this more effective, as it provides incentive to continue playing and strengthening brain activity. And in many cases, poker combines mental stimulation and social interaction, further increasing the potential benefit as a mental exercise.

A Simple Approach to Staying Sharp

The CDC estimates that about 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, with 5.6 million being aged 65 and older. With the evidence backing its benefits, casual poker play would be a wise way to help keep seniors off that list, as such games can improve certain cognitive functions and delay mental deterioration. In fact, playing poker can present more than just mental benefits, as certain aspects can also contribute to better coordination, social skills and sleeping schedules.

With the rise in online poker, it’s easier than ever to take advantage of such a positive form of mental exercise. Fortunately, most outlets allow users to play many different poker games, from Texas Hold’em to 5-card draw, 7-card stud and beyond, meaning the different rules and strategies can help players adapt and further strengthen mental skills. Newer players also have access to a variety of educational resources to help them play the game, which can further bolster the cognitive benefits. And while the financial incentive has been addressed as a key reason poker can be better than other puzzle-type games, many websites and apps offer alternatives that allow players to understand the experience of calling, raising and going all in without risking any real money.

If you’re interested in learning how to play poker as a means of fending off the decline that comes with age, join the Replay Poker community to start playing.