Japanese Use Gambling To Fight Dementia

Joan Timpson  |  February 17, 2016

A new trend in Japan is using gambling in retirement homes to help residents combat the symptoms of dementia. One day care centre in Yokohama encourages elderly people to play games like mahjong and baccarat to win prizes and fake money.

Benefits and risks involved

"We believe this casino stimulates the brain and helps to prevent or suppress the development of dementia," said Kaoru Mori, chairman of Japan Elderly Care Service, which runs the "Las Vegas" center, quoted by CNN.

However, these games come with their fair share of both risks and benefits. Some researchers argue that gambling games can help keep the brain mentally stimulated, thus helping to prevent cognitive decline and diseases like Alzheimer's. A study by the Suwa Tokyo University of Science found that elderly participants experienced greater frontal and parietal lobe activity and improvements in recognition while playing these games.

But gambling can be an unhealthy activity. A recent Japanese government study found that around 5 per cent of the country's population, or 5.36 million people, are addicted to gambling. In the US, gaming industry data has shown that half of all adult visitors to casinos in 2013 were over the age of 50, and elderly people are the fastest growing segment of gambling addicts in the country.

Socialisation is key

Much of the appeal of gambling stems from the socialisation involved. Residents of the Yokohama centre told CNN that gaming gives them a chance to socialise with people who they otherwise wouldn't interact with.

"I've lived alone for decades, many days I don't speak a word, I feel very depressed, but here we play games and talk," one of the centre's visitors told CNN.

While gambling with real money isn't always a good idea, playing games with peers can be a great way for care home residents to stay mentally active and socialise with other people. Card games, board games, puzzles and other group activities can provide stimulation and excitement. A weekly or biweekly get-together is something that people can look forward to and appreciate. Look into programmes that are already scheduled at your local care home or consider starting your own gaming circle if you like the idea of a regular activity that can help keep you sharp.

At Sunrise Senior Living, our care homes feature neighbourhoods that help residents living with dementia lead active, healthy lives. For more information or to find a location near you, contact us today.