Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Doctor Garry II: de nos jours

This week - the 18th to the 24th May - is Dementia Awareness Week. You will know this from the numerous zero references to the event emanating from The Times’ chess correspondent’s twitter account.

Ironic that. At times it seems like we're getting one chesser or another using twitter to tell us something about dementia every other day, but the week when there’s an actual organised attempt to push the issue into the nation’s consciousness we get nothing at all. I just can’t understand it. It’s almost as if the provision  of information about dementia isn’t the primary purpose of those tweets at all.

Anyhoo, Dementia Awareness Week is as good a time as any to begin a series on what chessers have said about dementia over the past couple of years. Garry Kasparov’s recent missive being just the latest rather than the first of it’s kind, I feel that coverage of the issue (coverage of the coverage of the issue, I suppose we could say) is not just timely but long overdue.

The Times’ chess correspondent has spouted dubious nonsense in this area several times, Susan Polgar has republished a piss-weak article on the subject and almost exactly a year ago an execrable piece appeared on the Chessbase and FIDE websites. And now Gazza’s stuck in his grossly misleading oar.

Truly, the idea that we might use knights and bishops as an intervention to tackle dementia has become the bollocks de nos chessical jours*.

The thing is, I do actually think that chess could potentially make a difference when it comes to dementia. I do think that there are reasons to believe that our favourite game could, in certain circumstances, form the basis of effective medical and/or social interventions in this area.

We will get to that discussion, but before we arrive there we will first to have to swim through the ocean of bullshit supplied by Kasparov, Friedel, Keene, Polgar and their ilk. I fear that some parts of the journey will cover matters and behaviours that are somewhat unpleasant. Other times we'll be be addressing mere stupidity. In either case, having to go to the bother at all is rather a drag. We all have our crosses to bear, I suppose, and at least next time - and there will be a next time - I’ll be able to link to these posts and be done with it.

Given what we’re about to go through, it might be as well to kick off by establishing a benchmark for what it is reasonable. What can be justified when discussing chess as an intervention for dementia?

As it happens, we won’t even have to tax our own brains to create a brief summary of where we stand. Something written in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2003 will serve us very well indeed:-

... seniors should be encouraged to read, play board games, and go ballroom dancing, because these activities, at the very least, enhance quality of life, and they just might do more than that.

Joseph T. Coyle

Use it or Lose it - Do Effortful Mental Activities Protect against Dementia?, NEJM 348:25 p. 2490

Yes, that’s just the ticket, even if - no, precisely because - Coyle doesn’t actually specifically mention chess. The 'non mentioning of chess', by the way, is a theme that we’ll be returning to next time.

* to borrow Ben Goldacre’s phrase.


John Cox said...

Ballroom dancing increases the quality of life?!

I'm not so sure about that. I'm fairly confident it wouldn't improve the quality of mine.

Jonathan B said...

No doubt John, no doubt. Which is kind of the point I suppose. Well, one of them.

Unknown said...

Mr Hogg commented that in a previous time he had looked at sections from Alzheimic brain and observed the ultrastructure of plaques and tangles using a transmission electron microscope.

He swears that in some of the thin sections he observed figures that resembled chess pieces and furthermore the plaques in one particular section with said chess-like figures were arranged in a position from one of Kasparov's games. We submitted the paper to Nature but alas it has remained unpublished. We did send an advance copy for comment to Garry K. which may explain his recent foray into neurophysiology.