DOES playing contract bridge keep you smarter longer?
Kim Ellaway, secretary of the Queensland Bridge Association, believes 200 per cent that it does and she is backed up by Professor John Kwok of Neuroscience Research Australia
Last month we reported how the Sunshine Coast Contract Bridge Club at Buderim in a drive for new members claimed playing the card game could ward off dementia.
We put it to the test by asking Professor Kwok (50) who for the last 20 years has been studying the late onset of diseases in our elderly, particular Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
His main area of focus at the Neuroscience Research Centre in Sydney has been how lifestyle factors actually work to protect the elderly and reduce the risk of getting these diseases.
In collaboration with Professor Parminder Sachdev of the University of New South Wales he has just completed a Sydney Memory Ageing Study involving a large group of 1000 people aged 70 to 90 years.
"We worked them pretty hard," Professor Kwok said. "They sat through a lot of cognitive tests with questions on what sort of mental activities they do each week like reading magazines, going to the cinema, playing games like bridge and chess and learning a second language.
"Our findings have not yet been published but we know certain disease genes when switched on increase the risk of getting Alzheimer's and what lifestyle factors are capable of switching it off.
"Activity like bridge gives the ageing brain a gymnasium to get fit in. Think of a brain as another muscle to be exercised. If you don't use it, it will regress and not work as effectively as it should."
The research by Professor Kwok and his colleagues at the Neuroscience Research Centre has been supported by contract bridge players throughout Australia since 2004 with a competition each year in May called the Bridge for Brain Research Challenge.
Clubs compete against each other and fundraise. Association secretary Kim Ellaway says it is strongly supported by her members who are "ecstatic by the amount of money raised, usually about $40,000.
"We have 54 clubs in Queensland, nine on the Sunshine Coast. Our total membership of 8000 has doubled in the last 10 years because people are starting to realise the benefits of playing bridge.
"I am 200 per cent convinced of this.
"You very rarely hear of bridge players having Alzheimer's or dementia."