Sep 30, 2009

Sudoku is good for you, cancer patients learn

Anyone who has tried and succeeded at the popular number placement game of Sudoku also knows that it should come with a surgeon general's warning: Sudoku may be addictive, causing you to lose track of time and to become unaware of your problems as well as your surroundings.

Once you start a Sudoku puzzle, you want but one thing, and that is to get the numerals 1 through 9 in their proper places in that row, that column and that block.

And that's good news, according to Om Johari, a retired IIT scientist who recently presented the merits of Sudoku to a group gathered at the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva. LivingWell provides non-medical support services at no charge for people living with cancer.

"Sudoku is popular because you need to know so little to enjoy it," Johari said. "It is not like a crossword puzzle where success might depend upon a strong vocabulary or knowledge of a particular topic. To do Sudoku you only need to know the numbers 1 through 9."

Puzzle workers use logic to place the numerals in the grid so that each appears only once in each column, row and small box. No math is involved.

Johari, of Elk Grove Village, ran an electron microscopy lab at the IIT Research Institute in Chicago, edited and published scientific journals, and is now a volunteer, teaching meditation, laughter and Sudoku strategies at north and west suburban senior centers, libraries, park districts and centers like LivingWell. He was enjoying Sudoku in puzzle books for many years before it appeared in the newspapers and remembers when his grown sons were small that they would do the puzzles as a family.

At the LivingWell center, he told a group about the mental health benefits of Sudoku for everyone, but particularly those living with an illness like cancer:

--It is great exercise for the brain, he said. Although the puzzles vary from easy to very hard, he believes the easy and medium puzzles provide enough of a mental workout. "If you stress yourself over the difficult puzzles, you are missing the relaxation benefits of Sudoku," he said, suggesting that fans try a difficult puzzle once a week. "When you can't do it, just leave it and come back."

--Sudoku teaches patience. "There's no guesswork in Sudoku," said Johari. "If you guess, you're sunk."

--Sudoku relieves stress. "You do Sudoku, and you forget arthritis pain. You forget you are confined to bed. You forget the daily stresses of life," Johari said. "Sudoku lets us put everything else away for those minutes we spend on the puzzle."

--Doing Sudoku helps relieve loneliness: "Sudoku puzzles are solved by oneself at one's own pace," he said. "These puzzles are particularly great when one is confined to bed, at home or at the hospital. All you need is a puzzle and a sharp pencil with a good eraser."

Cancer patient Ann Preuss of West Chicago listened to Johari's presentation and told the others why she likes the game.

"When I was in chemo and taking treatments, Sudoku seemed like the one thing that could make me focus," she said. "It helped me a lot in that way."

If your mind wanders too much during Sudoku it will take you long to complete the puzzle, Johari added. "Eventually you learn to focus, and that helps you to focus in other aspects of your life."

The name Sudoku comes from a Japanese phrase that means "the digits must occur only once." Although it can be simple, it can also be extremely difficult, as puzzle fans know. Johari also taught ways to approach the number puzzle.

"I'm not going home with you," he told the class. "Please feel free to ask a lot of questions."

Joni Mount of Elk Grove Village, facilitator of the Elk Grove Village Multiple Sclerosis Self Help Group, recently asked Johari to present his Sudoku program to her group.

"It is important to note that 50 percent of people with MS suffer from cognitive problems, so exercising our minds is very important," she said. "It is important that people realize they can attempt these puzzles and can learn them. Personally, I know I need to do them regularly because it is kind of a litmus test on how sharp I am."

Mount, who has MS and does about four Sudoku puzzles a week, said she loses her touch if she goes too long without doing them.

"Sudoku looks very intimidating and, to someone with cognitive issues, almost impossible. Om's mild manner and patience served the group well," she said. "He made it less intimidating and gave them confidence."
Chicago Tribune

No comments:

Post a Comment