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Poker Playing Keeps Us Young

Published on 8/15/2017

It’s no secret, as we grow older, poker players – as well as all other people – become ever more concerned with our ability to continue to enjoy life – and continue to engage in the activities we so relish.

After retirement, with more spare time available, we older poker players are likely to spend even more of our days and evenings at the poker table. I was pleased to learn from George “The Engineer” Epstein, my co-columnist and poker mentor, that playing poker can help us maintain our cognitive skills.

We can avoid the onset of dementias, especially Alzheimer’s disease, that horrible ailment so many elderly suffer and eventually it ends their lives. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills, and even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.

For your information, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one out of every three seniors will die with dementia – primarily Alzheimer’s. Currently, this costs our nation about $260 billion each year, and is expected to quadruple by 2050.

Being a senior citizen myself, I was much intrigued when George showed me a recent feature article in a magazine published by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. It’s written by a retired rabbi, no less, who is highly respected in the Los Angeles area. Rabbi Laura Geller, the emerita rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, wrote about “wise aging.”

The headline of Rabbi Geller’s article asks: “What is Wise Aging?” And, the subhead reads: “It Starts with Staying Engaged.” That’s what caught my attention. Epstein and other poker experts have long maintained playing the game of poker provides both social engagement with other people at the table and mental challenge (exercise) for the brain, helping it to remain fit and healthy – just as physical exercise benefits our bodies.

Keeping our minds so well engaged is bound to slow down memory loss – as evidenced by the many senior citizens (almost 200) who have participated in Epstein’s Poker for Seniors group at the Claude Pepper Senior Center in Los Angeles.

In conducting her study, Rabbi Geller talked with more than 250 congregants over the age of 55, meeting in small groups, to confront the age-old problem of getting older. It soon became apparent that “three fears emerged: being isolated, becoming invisible and becoming dependent.” She emphasizes: “People really want social connections… Those are the antidote to the fears of becoming invisible and isolated.” Reasonable. But there is more.

A major issue I would add to “wise aging” is the matter of mental cognition, including our memories, as we age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.” With the decline in memory, those with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks – even remembering the rules of their favorite game – such as poker. They may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. That sure would destroy your poker game – as well as your life!

Yes, I agree with the rabbi, “wise aging… starts with staying engaged.” And playing poker is an ideal way to accomplish that goal!

By Irene Edith of Gaming Today