Lot’s to talk about in your post. In short, I’m much more optimistic about the potential for chess to have a positive impact in this area.
Kevin Thurlow wrote:
Doing mental games will almost certainly not prevent dementia,
We can happily drop the "almost" from that sentence.
We know playing 'mental games' - however we define them - doesn’t prevent dementia because we know that nothing prevents dementia.
I suppose we could argue that in theory the evidence might become available at some point in the future - but in practice it’s not going to.
Dementia is a complex illness with complex causes - it’s not going to be amenable to simple solutions. The oft misrepresented Verghese study - e.g. discussed here http://streathambrixtonchess.blogspot.c ... -bark.html
- was published back in 2003. It was the result of a 21 year research programme. That takes us back to the early 80s - and Verghese and his colleagues weren’t even the first to look at this area.
Fact is, the research in this field dates back decades. If there was ever going to be proof that playing chess / similar games prevented dementia we’d have found it by now.
Chess / 'mental games' aren’t going to be the way to prevent dementia. They might well turn out to be part of a mult-faceted solution but at that’s something rather different.
This is 'true' but rather misses the point.
So, yes, Vascular dementia is caused by strokes so playing chess/scrabble/bridge etc isn’t going to cut the incidence of this form of dementia unless you can show that they prevent strokes (which seems unlikely, to say the least).
The thing is, though, it’s long been known that the amount of brain damage caused by the dementia is not correlated to impact on cognitive function. So some folks have significant damage to their brains but have relatively little cognitive impairment whilst others expect much more impact from less physical damage.
This is what the concept of cognitive reserve is all about.
The other point is that Alzheimer’s Disease is far and way the most common form of dementia*. Alzheimer’s disease does seem amenable to the possibility of an intellectually stimulating life-style building cognitive reserve. Protecting against dementia (delaying onset, slowing progression) rather than preventing, but that’s still quite an intervention if you can make it work.
Kevin Thurlow wrote:
it is reasonable to assume that keeping the brain active might help a bit
(again - my emphasis)
Not just reasonable to assume It’s well-known that an intellectual life-style can help protect against dementia. The key point here is what "a bit" means.
We also know that early years education, not being depressed, diet, physical exercise, avoiding smoking / excessive alcohol consumption are also associated with above averagely favourable dementia outcomes. How much does playing chess help compared to the others?
To put it another way - from a dementia intervention point of view, would chess club members do better to spend their time going for a walk / cooking better food etc.
Kevin Thurlow wrote:
And it will probably make you feel better, (as you are doing something you enjoy), which is good psychology.
Yup, doing stuff that you enjoy is the key to Dr. Coyle’s argument - and something that is entirely overlooked by the chess - dementia bullshitters.
Let’s say we can demonstrate that chess club members have more favourable dementia outcomes compared to the general population. Let’s say we control for race, class and other factors and we find the effect continues. Does that mean everybody should play chess to help with dementia?
Of course not. There’s no reason at all to think that people taking up a hobby purely for health reasons would get the same outcomes as those who do it for intrinsic love of the activity. Every reason to think otherwise, in fact.
In summary, there’s no place for bull**it or hyperbole but every reason to think that chess programmes - alongside other interventions - are a potentially good thing to do. In any event, they can improve the quality of life and may do more than that.
btw: for anybody interested in pursuing the academic research in this area, there’s a lot of easily accessible material listed here:-
http://streathambrixtonchess.blogspot.c ... -pile.html
* I’m glossing over the whole issue of mixed dementias here just to try to avoid this post going on for ever.