Ping Pong is Brain Sport for Alzheimer Patients

The Olympics are in full-swing and, as expected, the contingent from The People's Republic of China has been sweeping the medals. Often, the finals are played out with Chinese on both sides.

In a far less, competitive environment, Fryda Dvorak, 86, daily plays ping pong at Los Angeles' Gilbert Table Tennis Center, where the nonprofit Sport and Art Educational Foundation (SAEF) runs a ping pong therapy program for patients with Alzheimer’s. She is accompanied by a friend, Celia Hernandez.

Dvorak suffers from Alzheimer's but the special orange ping pong balls help her focus on the here and now.

Hernandez told the “She doesn’t remember what she had for breakfast or lunch, but she knows she hit the ball 64 times during her lesson, and that her coach Irina lost three times.”

The specialized games at the Gilbert Table Tennis Center don't resemble the dazzling, high-wire moves of Olympic game play — although the coaches are highly accomplished champions. The instructors gently rally the ball with participants, giving them instruction on holding and swinging the paddle. The focus is on approaching ping pong as an exercise for the mind rather than the feet.

Medical professionals believe ping pong is a beneficial “brain sport”, an effective way to keep elderly brains alert and safeguard against the onset of dementia.

SAEF founded the Alzheimer’s program last May, originating in a Japanese clinical study, showing that ping pong developed a raise in brain activity and alertness, and reduced dementia and depression. The sport improves cerebral blood flow, agility and elevates mood.

When Dvorak finishes her session, she is in post-game glow. “When I play, my body is better. I can move,” she told the “It makes me feel good. I feel like I’m still somebody, even at my age.”

Table tennis is a mainstay at Assisted Living and Continuing Care Residence.