Can this ancient game help to fight Alzheimer's?
In June, Mah Jongg for Memories events across the country raised more than $50,000 collectively for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Mah Jongg players participate in Mah Jongg for Memories on June 27 at the Oaks Country Club.
Small groups of well-dressed women gather quietly around tables, each studying intricate Chinese characters on small tiles.
This game with ancient roots doesn’t share the energy of Bunco or the rhythm of Bingo. The challenging Mah Jongg requires concentration and skill, says local player Jenelle Schatz. The object is to make part of a hand, of which there are 65 types.
“You can’t just sit down and play,” Schatz says. “I watched people play for a few weeks before I tried it.” Now she plays at least weekly for three hours at a time.
More than 500,000 people play Mah Jongg regularly in the United States, according to the National Mah Jongg League. The mental stimulation of the game, along with the social element of gathering to play, connected some dots for Schatz, whose husband, Tony, died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. These aspects of Mah Jongg cover two of the Alzheimer’s Association’s “10 Ways to Love Your Brain”: tips to prevent cognitive decline.
In 2018, Schatz organized a Tulsa benefit for the Association called Mah Jongg for Memories. The event was so successful, the National Alzheimer’s Association launched it as a pilot national event for The Longest Day, a campaign around the summer solstice. On or around June 21, thousands of participants from across the world come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice.
In June 2019, 28 Mah Jongg for Memories events across the country raised more than $50,000 collectively for the fight against Alzheimer’s. Schatz is proud others find pleasure in the game and are joining in the cause.
“I look at it as a way to honor my husband’s life that is taking what we’ve been through and turning it into something positive,” she says.