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SENIORS BRIDGE : Sharp Contract : The four-person game hones mental acuity and memory for details, players and experts agree.

October 18, 1990|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL

Forget oat bran. Dump the iron tablets. Learn to play bridge. That will put the snap back in your elastic.

It's a universal truth--in every family there's one bridge fanatic and one kid who failed the SAT test. Junior should wise up and take card lessons. Bridge is fun, and it can also be good for mental acuity and memory.

Contract bridge ranks among the most popular games in card-playing circles. The American Contract Bridge League claims more than 180,000 members, including many who play at affiliated clubs in Ventura County and throughout Southern California.

According to Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, "the old saying 'use it or lose it,' can apply to mental activity as well."

Mental stimulation, he said, is as beneficial as physical exercise to good health. "Activities like bridge are not only mentally challenging, but they help people to get out socially and that can be helpful in preventing depression," he said.

Bridge, in fact, is considered such a good way to get out and meet people that some companies, including IBM, pay for the lessons of employees facing retirement.

In addition, experts have long recognized the therapeutic role of card games in rehabilitating brain-injured and stroke patients. "Card games are good for socialization and fine motor coordination," said Wendy Nitsche, director of occupational therapy at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard. "Cards are also good for thinking skills, memory, sequencing and organizing."

Brenda Kennell, director of occupational therapy at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, agreed. "Bridge is a wonderful game because it works on so many cognitive skills, but," she said, "you are limited because you need four players. At the clinic, we teach solitaire to people who never played cards before and they become card monsters."

Kennell said people can progress to two-person games such as gin rummy and later to bridge, conditions permitting.

Five years ago, Marjory Freyermuth, 73, suffered a stroke. She resumed bridge a year ago on her doctor's advice, and plays at the Dorrill B. Wright Cultural Center in Port Hueneme Recreation Center. "Since I've been playing bridge, I've noticed that it's a lot easier to remember other things, like names," Freyermuth said.

Joann Truelsen, Freyermuth's caretaker, agreed. "She has a little better hand coordination since playing bridge. The stroke affected her right side and her arm was really bad. I'd say even her speech has improved a little," Truelsen said.

At 90, Pearl Wismer is the bridge demon of the Castle Hill Retirement Village in Thousand Oaks. She bemoans the fact that "so many people want to be entertained. They love bingo--which I can't stand."

You won't find John Leming of Port Hueneme in the bingo parlors, either. An insurance broker, Leming recently played bridge with 20,000 players, eight hours a day for 10 days to win the Stoddard trophy. The coveted prize is usually won by a professional bridge player.

Leming had given up bridge 30 years ago after his wife's ultimatum. "It was either marriage or bridge," he said. Marriage won out--for awhile. After his divorce six years ago, Leming, 52, resumed his hobby at the Bridge Academy II in Thousand Oaks, where Mayor Alex Fiore is a regular visitor. 'It kept me out of the bars," said Leming, who is ranked 104th out of the nation's top 500 bridge players.

"I play bridge primarily for the mental stimulation. It even appears to help in my day-to-day business life," said Leming. "My memory is a lot better than it used to be, especially for details and numbers."

WHERE AND WHEN

The Ventura Avenue Senior Center offers new beginners bridge classes every Wednesday at 10 a.m. (805) 648-3035. Nearly all the senior and recreation centers in the county offer lessons or have groups that play weekly. Bridge clubs in Ventura County are not exclusively for senior citizens. People may become members or visit on a pay-as-you-play basis:

Ojai Valley Civic Bridge Club and Ventura Unit Bridge Club (805) 984-6956.

Buenaventura Bridge Club, Poinsettia City Bridge Club, and Ventura Civic Bridge Club (805) 642-6284.

Duplicate Bridge Club (805) 492-4273.

Bridge Academy II, Thousand Oaks (805) 495-0385.

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