Oshlags versus Alzheimers
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a number that is expected to triple by 2050. Over the last six years, the ACBL has raised more than $3.5 million in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association for The Longest Day, a sunrise-to-sunset event honoring the strength, heart and endurance of those facing Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.
Bridge clubs across the United States will host a marathon of bridge on a designated day the week of June 17-24, with players receiving upgraded black masterpoints.
Richard Oshlag will be one of the many ACBL members participating in a local event. For him, as it is for so many, the cause is personal.
Richard Oshlag remembers the day he first met his wife, Mary, as clearly as if it were yesterday.
“We met at the bridge table during a sectional in Memphis in 1973,” he said. “I was playing against this cute, young girl, and she made this really good play against my partner; it was really something else.”
A month after their initial meeting, a mutual friend and fellow player set the two up on their first date. Richard was smitten with Mary and her intuitive bridge playing skills.
“She had an intuitive knowledge of when doing the wrong thing was the right thing to do,” he said. “She just really had a knack for it; she would give people problems that I never would have thought of, which gave us great results at the bridge table.”
The pair married in 1976 and settled in Memphis, where Richard worked on the Bridge Bulletin editorial team at the ACBL’s headquarters. While he had several bridge partners, he often played with his wife. As partners, they won the 2011 Senior Swiss Teams at the Summer North American Bridge Championships in Toronto.
In the years after their victory, Richard noticed his wife’s bridge skills beginning to decline, which he first attributed to her growing older. In reality, it was the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our son – who is a physician – came home for a visit, and within 30 minutes of arriving, told me he felt something was wrong with her and I needed to take her to see a neurologist,” he said. “After initial testing, her neurologist agreed something wasn’t right.”
Mary’s initial diagnosis was primary progressive aphasia – a neurological condition in which language skills become impaired – which can be a precursor or side effect of Alzheimer’s disease. Richard took her to speech therapy, but the bridge table is where she found comfort.
Friends were able to drive Mary to and from bridge club for her games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. As an Emerald Life Master, she was unable to play in games on Monday or Friday, even though her skill at the table had diminished to a beginner level.
In June 2017, she stopped attending regular club games, and her cognition began to decline rapidly. Richard and their son made the decision to move Mary into an assisted living facility shortly after she stopped playing bridge. Within eight months, she was transferred to the facility’s full-time nursing home.
“The lack of the social interaction and intellectual stimulation was like someone flipping a switch in her brain,” he said. “It was startling how quickly she went downhill and it was clear to me that bridge prolonged her ability to function.”
“I can’t do anything to help Mary,” he said. “But maybe I can help somebody a generation down the road.”