A story in Friday’s NY Times speculated on the possible connection between high-level social interaction (playing bridge) and the ability to ward off the dementia that typically accompanies old age. Although the point wasn’t as clearly made as it might have been, the author seemed to be saying that only one in 200 people lived to the age of 90 without significant dementia (although the accompanying video, which is better than the article, puts the number at 1,200). By age 95, the numbers are even worse. Yikes!
If the nonagenarians featured in this story are typical success stories, sign me up for bridge lessons immediately. True, the story is more fascinating feature writing than compelling science (no one knows, for a start, whether these bridge players are active because they’re sharp, or vice-versa), but it contained an interesting insight into the ruthlessness of the over-90 crowd. For although some players knew when they could no longer “hold their cards” and voluntarily withdrew from the games, others didn’t. And then they were, effectively, kicked out. Consider this excerpt from the article:
“’The first thing you always want to do is run and help them,’” [one woman] said. “’But after a while you end up asking yourself: “‘What is my role here? Am I now the caregiver?” You have to decide how far you’ll go, when you have your own life to live.’
“In this world, as in high school, it is all but impossible to take back an invitation to the party. Some players decide to break up their game, at least for a time, only to reform it with another player. Or, they might suggest that a player drop down a level, from a serious game to a more casual one. No player can stand to hear that. Every day in card rooms around the world, some of them will.
“’You don’t play with them, period,’” [another woman] said. “’You’re not cruel. You’re just busy.’”
Busy?! Doing what, one’s inclined to ask. How about staying alive? At some point, the very old realize that the sands are rushing out ever more quickly, and many decide that they’re better off only doing what they want to do. In extreme cases, this can take the form of passing gas in public, but usually it’s much less apparent that than. I’m reminded of my grandmother who, upon moving into a retirement complex/assisted-living facility after turning 90, matter-of-factly (but civilly) turned down an invitation from a well-meaning neighbor to participate in a Bible-study group. “I don’t have time,” she said, echoing the bridge shark quoted above.
What does this mean for those of us still some distance from these scary points in our lives? Probably, blogging isn’t socially interactive enough.1 Luckily for me, I get plenty of social interaction before a captive audience: my students. After reading this article, it appears I’ll be best served by teaching until I fall down in front of the class, or at least until I start referring to Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. as the case that established a woman’s right to choose.2 An advance apology is due the class of 2050.
After reading the article, I couldn’t help but think of poor Dick Cheney, now routinely surfacing after many years in an undisclosed location from which he was somehow able to shred the Constitution. Given his serious health issues, perhaps his endless TV tour is based on his belief that the social interaction afforded by FOX News and the American Enterprise Institute will keep him going for another ten years. Uh…can we please make a present of bridge lessons for the former VP?
- Or is it? Does cyber-contact count? Discuss. ↩
- For non-lawyers: Palsgraf is a strangely famous negligence case involving an explosion, a fallin scale, and a series of inscrutable aphorisms from the great New York jurist, Benjamin Cardozo. As everyone knows, the case that established the woman’s right to reproductive autonomy was Brown v. Board of Education. ↩