I know I posted some similar articles last year but recently Johni Levene posted this on her new “Mah Jongg, That’s It” Facebook site (be sure to join – it’s really wonderful) and so I thought it might be time to post it again to remind us all that not only is our beloved Mah Jongg fun but it’s good for us too!

The Effects of Mahjong

The Effects of Mahjong thumbnail
Mahjong can have powerful effects on improving memory.

Mahjong is the Chinese word for “sparrow,” and is a game of strategy and skill played with tiles featuring Chinese characters. It resembles the English card game Rummy. Four players construct a wall from tiles that is 18 tiles wide and 2 tiles high. Dice rolls determine the play order and each player takes 13 tiles from the wall into his hand with an extra tile for the east player, then collects and discards tiles in order to build sets of three. Mahjong is mental exercise that, according to recent psychiatric and cognitive behavioral studies, can have powerful effects on improving memory and reducing dementia. Mahjong is thus a highly effective and low-cost therapy that can be integrated into the daily routines of most institutions.

  1. Reduced Dementia

    • Hong Kong researchers found in a 2006 study that participants with a median age of over 83 years who met a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) diagnosis of dementia significantly improved after playing mahjong twice or four times per week over the course of 16 weeks. This was true for players in both experimental groups, regardless of the frequency of play. The study also showed that the effects lasted even a month after mahjong play stopped, demonstrating that the positive cognitive effects of mahjong are powerful and long-lasting after participants have reached a certain threshold of improvement.

    Lower Risk of Dementia

    • Mahjong not only reduces dementia already affecting patients, but additional studies show that mahjong reduces the risk of ever developing it in the first place. Research on different varieties of cognitive games demonstrates that those who regularly do crossword puzzles or play strategic and mentally stimulating games like bridge and mahjong have a far lower risk of developing dementia compared to their peers who perform non-stimulating activities like watching television.

    Verbal Memory

    • Mahjong is a visual game, and players need not be able to read or understand the Chinese characters written on the playing tiles in order to benefit from its positive cognitive effects. Interestingly, though mahjong does not necessarily involve reading or speaking, playing it improves verbal memory for players of all nationalities. Verbal memory refers to the ability to remember words and other abstracted concepts from language (like syntax). The 2006 Hong Kong study found that verbal memory was improved moderately to significantly for participants who played mahjong on a regular weekly basis.


4 thoughts on “KEEP PLAYING!

    1. Mah Jongg and Me Post author

      Hi Myrna – where did you see that some games have 18 tiles – 2 deep – for the wall? It is always 19 tiles – you were correct in what you thought. Let me know where you are seeing games with only 36 tiles in each wall instead of 38. If the walls only had 36 tiles then there would be 8 tiles left over when all the walls were built and before the Charleston started.


      1. Mah Jongg and Me Post author

        Myrna – did some more research – I am assuming that this article refers to Hong Kong Mah Jong, not American Mah Jongg. Hong Kong is played with 144 tiles, not 152 as in American Mah Jongg so it would make sense that their walls are only 18 wide, 2 deep which would equal 144 tiles. Sorry for any confusion…I think my brain was fuzzy when I first answered you!
        Ann xxo


Comments are closed.