Playing with ALZHEIMERS
The purpose of this article is to encourage and enable bridge playing victims and their carers to play as long as possible with their friends at clubs in their twilight years. An undeniable and, often, an undiminished pleasure for the sufferer in the early stages of development of the disease. There are, however, situations where it can do more harm than good to encourage victims to continue playing in clubs.
Both my parents suffered from the disease. They loved card games. Since they passed away, I have played with over a thousand different partners and have watched thousands of others as a non playing director. Because my parents suffered, I have made a point of learning how to spot the earlier stages of Alzheimers in bridge players. Before even their nearest and dearest become aware of their partner´s affliction. The biggest giveaway is the failure of players to remember a relatively simple new convention they are asked to try when they play with a new partner.
It has been a fascinating learning curve for me playing in recent years with friends on a regular basis as their Alzheimer condition worsened. Far from being a chore, each game has been an enjoyable and mentally rewarding experience, albeit a very very tiring one. Admittedly, I have a lot of patience and am able to empathise with victims. Here are a few tips to help other symathetic friends of sufferers to develop those essential qualities whilst avoiding the pitfalls:
1.Never disagree when partner suggests you have made a mistake. Just say they must get on with playing the next hand. Otherwise they end up getting increasingly angry out of frustration. And you, of course, get more frustrated as well.
2. Never never suggest partner made an error. Paradoxically, the more clear cut and obvious the fundamental mistake, the more important it is to avoid an inquest. They tend to become even more confused. Whereas saying nothing allows them to reboot their memory box and remember all the other basics programmed for years in their brains. A good example occurred whilst I was partnering a Polish sufferer just a few weeks ago. He correctly opened the weak two hearts with six hearts and 8 points. Yet only two hands previously, our Danish opponent had asked him what my opening bid of two spades meant – and then how many points I held. He had replied “five spades” and “at least 12 points” respectively to those questions. Causing great confusion to our opponents who were unaware of his condition.
That brings me on to the question of whether it is advisable to allow a sufferer to continue playing in a reputable club at that advanced stage of Alzheimers. The answer in this instance was NO. Because it affected the fairness of competition in that expat club in Fuengirola where players are transient and the standard high.
My answer was different four years ago when I was asked to play at a Dutch club with a victim whose infirmity was at a very advanced stage. That day I was determined to do well for this long standing English friend. The concentration level needed to achieve that end resulted in it being the most exhausting game I have ever played. Trying to work out the consistently inconsistent bids of my partner and then give a satisfactory explanation to our opponents was nigh impossible.
To this day, it also ranks as the most exhilirating performance of my entire bridge career. At the end of the session, Max and I had just pipped his Spanish wife Maruxa (playing with Jane) to win. I was so thrilled for them that I bought all the other 35 players dinner and drinks at the venue. To extend the celebrations for this lovely man and his wife.
The heart-warming lessons to be learned from that event which took place at the Polo Club in Benalmadena in 2019 are twofold:
Bridge players afflicted with Alzheimers can still play the cards well even when their bidding skills are non existent.
Some of the greatest and most memorable days in a bridge player´s career can be when they are suffering from Alzheimers – or playing in a friendly club with a family atmosphere where everyone will rally round a carer who needs a break from looking after their beloved.
A nice positive way to end this article.
04h45 on 31/8/23