Playing bridge helps to maintain an active brain

Sprightly centenarian Bridge player, Marion Rice plays a mean hand and she’ll happily tell you it’s Bridge that keeps her ‘sharp’. Nothing excites her more than outwitting her opponents.

Marion was just one of more than 3,000 players across Australia who took part in the 6th Annual Bridge for Brain Research Challenge to raise funds for research into dementia.

The launch of the Challenge coincided with the announcement of new research findings which reversed the thinking about which part of the brain deteriorates faster with age.

“We have now discovered that the ageing process is far greater in the white matter of the brain, not the grey matter,” said NeuRA’s Dr Olivier Piguet. “Clearly there is a need for greater emphasis on maintaining an active brain in old age.”

“The brain is composed of an outer layer, the grey matter, and an inner layer, the white matter,” explained Dr Piguet. The nerve cells in the grey matter allow us to think, reason, learn, feel and coordinate movements.

In contrast, the white matter consists of connecting fibres which carry nerve impulses across different brain regions and down the spinal cord.

“These findings indicate that the source of ‘brain power’ is present throughout life in healthy adults and that decline tends to happen because of lost connections in the brain. This underlines the importance of using our brain capacity throughout life to maintain and create new connections.”

NeuRA’s Executive Director, Prof Peter Schofield, said the research was important as it reversed current thinking about the ageing process.

“Finding that nerve connections are vulnerable during ageing is an important outcome as it re-emphasises the need for people to remain mentally and physically active – whether it’s playing a musical instrument, Bridge, chess or reading,” he said.

More than 57,000 Australians will be diagnosed with some form of dementia over the next 12 months – around 1,000 a week. The annual community cost of managing dementia is estimated at $6.6 billion.

Read more about dementia here.