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March 22, 2016

Can Gambling Prevent Dementia?

prevent dementiaCan Gambling Prevent Dementia?

This post is for my mother-in-law who has been known to go the casino now and again with her senior citizen friends – and who usually wins.  Gambling is like other vices. Too much or even a little bit of it might get you in trouble and gambling addiction is a serious problem. Some would say that you shouldn’t gamble at all. But, there just might be some health benefits to gambling. Gambling just might prevent dementia. But, don’t use this post as an excuse to hit the nearest casino as you can still get the health benefits of gambling without losing any money.

A study by Suwa Tokyo University of Science showed that elderly who gamble demonstrated a small increase in activity in the brain’s frontal and parietal lobes and displayed better recognition. More and more Japanese elders are gambling playing games like baccarat, mahjong, pachinko, and slot machines. But, this benefit of gambling may be more than offset by gambling addiction. In Japan about 5% of adults are addicted to gambling. To curb this some centers that cater to the Japanese elderly use fake money in their casinos.

We were able to find the Suwa Tokyo University study online but it us in Japanese without an English translation so we’re unable to analyze the results or critique the study. Here’s the link to the abstract of the study in case you happen to know Japanese. But, it’s Greek to us. But, we are not surprised by the findings. We do know that in our own elderly in the United States that playing board games and doing crossword puzzles protects or reduces cognitive decline.

It would be interesting though to compare cognitive function in those elderly who play games that involve pure luck like slot machines, Keno, and roulette versus those that involve some actual thinking like the various card games. Our hunch is that the “thinking” games would be more protective against dementia. One possible contributing factor to the improved brain function in the Japanese study is the socialization component of gambling. Social networks and outlets have positive effects on brain function and longevity.

Gambling and Life

I see gambling somewhat reflective of life in general. Much of life is simply playing the odds. Medicine is almost entirely about playing the odds when you think about it. Does the risk of treatment outweigh the benefits? Which diagnostic test is most likely to reveal the problem? What is the most cost-effective way to manage the problem. What monitoring can be done to minimize the risk of a particular treatment? All of that involves odds and risk. To some degree the better doctors are those that better play the odds. Medicine also has entire programs called Risk Management designed to reduce the chances of having bad outcomes and chance of being sued.

Gambling involves risk and so does life. Driving to work involves risk. And, if you examine most things you do during the course of the day there is some risk of something bad happening to you. Using a knife at the dinner table involves risk. Taking a shower involves risk (lot of injuries occur in the shower). Whether we recognize it or not each day of life is a gamble. One reason to make each day count.

Much of life is simply putting yourself in best possible position (improve the odds) to avoid something bad, attract something good, live the life you want, obtain what you want, and to achieve what you want.

Here is a simple formula for life. Find what you want. Find what it takes to get it. Get busy going after it. It’s not much more complicated than that in most cases. Do what is needed to tip the odds in your favor. The better you do that the more you take the “gamble” out of anything. Life is about managing risk.

It takes about 10,000 hours of practice at almost anything to become extremely proficient at something. If you do not invest that 10,000 hours whether it be at swimming, playing the violin, computer programming, and so on, you have about zero chance of making in that endeavor at the highest level. But, just because you invest the 10,000 hours doesn’t mean you will become an olympic athlete, get into medical school, or become the next TV chef, either. Skill is involved. Some luck is also involved. But, the luck in life differs from luck in gambling. In life luck (opportunity) tends to find the person who is prepared, whereas in gambling luck is …..well ….. luck.

Some gambling is pure luck. And, some gambling is a combination of luck and skill. We suspect that the gambling that involves thinking and skill is likely to be most protective against dementia. So keep your mind mentally active and prevent dementia. You don’t have to risk any money to do that, either.

Now if you will excuse me I am taking my mother-in-law to the casino. There is no better place to be with an 84 year-old woman with untreated ADHD than a casino with all its action, lights, and noises. Let me tell you. She promised me dinner if she wins assuming of course that she still remembers my name and recognizes me. What are those odds? 😉


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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

  1. There is no idea more demented. Gambling is a red flag of dementia because gambling is demented. You can’t prevent dementia by doing something that is demented to the core. Gambling is pure dementia – unless you’re the house – then it is pure evil.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I assume you are talking about gambling for money. But, every decision you make is a gamble, is it not? With each decision you make you are betting that you picked the best alternative of several options. Nearly every decision you make you are intuitively weigh odds and risks in your brain as to which decision will yield the best outcome.

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