I posted this at the S&B blog a while ago, but I'll repeat it here. It's not chess, but it might be considered relevant:
Park, D. C. Park, Lodi-Smith, J. Drew, L., Haber, S., Hebrank, A. Bischof, G. N. and Aamodt, W. (2014) The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults. Psychological Science, 25(1), 103-112. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/1/103.full
There is a popular account of the research here: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shot ... rain-sharp
The general conclusion is that learning a new skill (quilting and digital photography in the study) improves memory in older people. So it might
be that learning to play chess would help, but simply continuing to play the game wouldn't.
Just now I also found this:
The impacts of a GO-game (Chinese chess) intervention on Alzheimer disease in a Northeast Chinese population
Ultra-brief summary: 'A GO-game intervention ameliorates AD [Alzheimer Disease] manifestations by up-regulating BDNF [brain-derived neurotrophic factor] levels'. However, the patients in this study already had Alzheimer's, so we're not talking about preventive effects. GO is not chess, but I think it's similar enough that it strengthens the case that chess might have benefits.
However, if we accept, for the sake of argument, that chess has benefits in dealing with Alzheimer's, does it have any special advantages over digital photography, quilting (you do at least get a tangible end result with those) or GO? And what about other activities? (As an aside, I see a parallel here with the arguments about the teaching of chess in schools. It's possible - even plausible - that chess will help in both cases, but is it the best way to tackle the problem?)
And why are we making the claim anyway? To get funding for chess? Are we planning to send chess teachers into care homes? Who's going to pay for that? Or are we just trying to get more people playing the game? Personally, I don't see a huge benefit to the broader chess community in having an influx of 65-year-old beginners, and in any case it would only reinforce the image of chess as an old person's game - hardly what we want.
If anyone wants to try to track down any further evidence, PubMed
, the database of peer-reviewed medical research publications, is an obvious place to start. But here's a hint: entering 'chess' and 'dementia' as your search terms will give you just nine results (one of which is only there because the author's surname is 'Chess'). Search for 'chess' and 'Alzheimer' and you'll get five more. You may need to be more creative in your search terms.