Preventing Elder Abuse Through Mahjong

This post was written by Annika Olson, a second year law student at Boston College Law School who worked as a legal intern with the Elder Abuse Prevention Project of Greater Boston Legal Services this Summer

With adults aged 65 and older expected to grow to over 20% of the U.S. population by 2030, it is important to bring attention to the needs of older adults.[1] Baby boomers are more educated with more work experience than previous generations, which should increase their lifetime earnings and economic security as they age.  However, baby boomers also had fewer children and high divorce rates, meaning more elders may live alone in old age without the financial and social support of a spouse or child. In Boston, there will be an estimated 130,000 seniors by the year 2030, up from 88,000 in 2010.[2]

As people age, there are many reasons why social interactions with others decrease. That is why many researchers and health organizations support Activity Theory, which emphasizes the continuation of participation in all kinds of activities to improve the well-being of older adults in later life and achieve successful aging. One such activity senior centers have used to encourage participation is mahjong. Mahjong is a game of skill played by four people with domino-like tiles. Anneliese Heinz, an assistant professor at University of Texas, Dallas, has found that both Jewish American and Chinese American communities were built around mahjong during the 20th century. Heinz remarks that mahjong requires cooperation and strategy between players, creating an ideal forum for interaction between people. Mahjong is making a comeback and is gaining in popularity with older adults, who now have the free time to learn the game.

Playing mahjong requires attention control, alertness, quick information processing, and visual-motor coordination. Three aspects of hand-eye coordination are used in the game: reaction time, speed of movement, and accuracy. Mental quickness and retention of memory can help prevent elder abuse. The tile game is thought to slow down the effects of dementia, a condition that unfortunately leaves many elders particularly susceptible to abuse. Additionally, mahjong has been shown to indirectly improve psychological well-being through social interaction.[3] Low social support is a large contributing cause of elder abuse and a consistent meeting of four mahjong players would help to combat that.

Mahjong is a simple way to minimize the susceptibility of elder abuse, but an effective one, as it touches on social support and both physical and mental wellness. The cost to play is relatively small for the benefits the game provides. Many senior centers in the greater Boston area offer organized mahjong group play. Below are a variety of senior centers and the meeting times for mahjong:

-Rockland Senior Center: Friday at 10am

-Hingham Senior Center: Tuesday at 1pm and Friday at 10am

Brookline Senior Center: Monday and Thursday from 12:30-3pm

-Newton Senior Center: Monday at 2:30pm

*If your senior center doesn’t offer it, share the benefits with them.

*Mahjong can also be spelled mah jongg, majong, mah-jongg

[1]As compared to 13% in 2010. Ortman, Jennifer, Velkoff, Victoria and Hogan, Howard. An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States. May 2014.

[2] Donahue projections are prepared by the UMass Donahue Institute ( MAPC projections are prepared by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), an organization based in Boston. MAPC-high projections assume stronger population growth and are recommended by MAPC for use by municipalities

[3] Cheng ST, Chan AC, Yu EC. An exploratory study of the effect of mahjong on the cognitive functioning of persons with dementia. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry, 2006, 21: 611–617.

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