Zoe Dinnerstein as a child, playing chess with her grandfather, Larry Dinnerstein, who died in 2017. Contributed / Zoe Dinnerstein

As a young child, Zoe Dinnerstein spent a lot of time playing chess with her grandfather. He suffered from dementia, but he never forgot how to play chess.

That cherished experience, along with her neurologist father’s work with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients, inspired her to start an intergenerational chess club especially for players with memory loss. 

The Alzheimer’s Association of Maine, partnering with the University of New England Center for Aging and Health, will launch a six-session chess club program for early-stage patients and their family caregivers Saturday, March 4, from 10 to 11 a.m. on the UNE Portland campus. The pilot program will continue into May.

“We wanted to meld my dad’s passion for early prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia and our love of chess,” said Dinnerstein, a high school student and award-winning chess player who lives with her family in Cape Elizabeth. “This was the result of that.”

Zoe Dinnerstein shoots a promotional video for the chess club. Contributed / Drew Wyman

Her father, Dr. Eric Dinnerstein, took the idea to UNE professor Thomas Meuser and to the Alzheimer’s Association’s Maine chapter, proposing the chess club as a means of providing mental stimulation and a social opportunity for those with memory problems.

“Especially the past three years in the context of the pandemic, a lot of older folks with memory issues suffered more than others with the isolation from the lack of stimulation,” he said, noting that brain stimulation and engagement is also among the best forms of Alzheimer’s prevention.


Meuser, founding director of UNE’s Center of Excellence in Aging and Health, specializes in Alzheimer’s disease and has been involved with the Alzheimer’s Association for 25 years. When he heard the Dinnersteins’ plan for an intergenerational chess club he got several of his graduate students on board.

“The idea is to use the experience of playing chess to provide helpful stimulation for brain function, but also just to provide a fun outlet,” Meuser said.

More than 29,000 people in Maine are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and 7.8% of people age 45 and older have subjective cognitive decline.

The chess club is the Maine chapter’s first launch of a post-pandemic social program, according to Executive Director Drew Wyman. Several social programs were previously in place and the chapter has wanted to reintroduce them, but they are reliant on volunteer and staff collaboration to be successful, he said.

Socialization is important because oftentimes people who receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia withdraw from other people, he said.

“The chess club provides a safe, secure, happy environment for people to be social,” Wyman said.

Wyman and the Dinnersteins say they hope to see more social engagement programs for memory patients in the future, but chess, which is engaging and can be meditative, is a strong start.

“My grandfather always remembered how to play chess, even when other things were fading,” Zoe Dinnerstein said. “That’s what I think chess can achieve, because it’s a really mind-activating game.”

For more information or to sign up for the chess club, go to alz.org/maine.

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