Those of us who play regularly know that mahjongg is good for us. However, it may be difficult to articulate exactly what the benefits are, especially when we are trying to explain to non-players. We think in some way playing this game may stave off the lurking shadow of Alzheimer’s, but don’t quite know how.
Dr Marie Savard who is a doctor and plays, suggests that the brain can be strengthened and challenged and this will help protect against MCI – mild cognitive impairment which increases the risk of the development of dementia and later Alzheimer’s.
Mahjongg provides this strength training and challenge in the following ways:
Sensory stimulation – We see the tiles, touch them, hear their names, This stimulates the occipital cortex, superior temporal gyrus and parietal lobe, which governs sensory integration.
Math skills – Although mahjongg is not a “numbers game,” per se, it does involve some math skill.
Short term memory and organization – From the moment we put our tiles in our hand we are exercising our frontal lobe which controls executive functions such as planning (hmm…what hand should I go for…) organizing (should I keep the twos and sevens or the twos and eights…or the sevens and eights…) attention (what did I pass her? Did she keep it?)
Learning and long term memory – The hippocampus converts short term memory into long term. It helps us to remember the rituals of the game (right, across, left; left, across, right) and to integrate the hands so that we don’t have to look at the file so much.
In short, mahjongg actively engages many areas of our brain simultaneously. Taking risks and learning new hands deepens this level of activity so that the game stays fresh. But wait, there’s more.
We cannot overlook the emotional component of mahjongg on our mental health. Our limbic system, which governs emotion and instinctive behaviours, comes into play when we spend time with our friends and interact socially. But more importantly, for many of us, mahjongg gives us a purpose in life, and research has shown that this may afford protection from decline. While to some it may seem a trivial purpose (after all, it isn’t like you’re a Congressman or anything) it provides a connectedness to a caring community and a refuge from many of the stormy ills of life.
So the next time someone pooh-poohs your obsession, just recount for them the many ways mahjongg is of benefit to you. And if you can’t remember all of them, you’ll just have to play more mahjongg.