Judy Seifert, a Hideaway resident, played mahjong with three other women at her table. She’s one of over 400 women who signed up to play the Chinese board game to benefit the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County on Thursday.

“I had never played until I moved to East Texas,” Seifert said. According to organizers, the National Mah Jongg League sends more playing cards to Tyler than any other place in the country.

Thursday’s event at Willow Brook Country Club was the 17th annual Mahjong for Memory benefit for those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in Smith County.

Stephanie Taylor, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County, notes that her organization is not a national affiliate, so all the money raised stays in Smith County. Over the past 17 years, the group has been able to raise half a million dollars, she said.

The organization provides support services for people suffering from Alzheimer's and their families. The degenerative brain disease is typically characterized by memory loss, but after time it can affect the patient's ability to see, smell and taste.

“Your brain runs your body, so as it begins to deteriorate your organs shut down and you’re not able to function,” Taylor said. “Usually it’s not the person who recognizes the symptoms, it’s a person very close to them.”

Mary Ann Eckert has been organizing the event since the first benefit 17 years ago, when only about 100 people showed up, she said. This year, they sold out, and even had to turn people away.

“We think it's so important because all of our money stays local,” she said. “We want to serve the people in Smith County.”

Participants paid $40 to play mahjong and have lunch. In the halls of the country club they could sign up for the silent auction.

Seifert, the rookie mahjong player, didn’t have much luck on Thursday. The game is said to improve brain health and memory.

“Not winning much today,” she said. “It’s all right, though. I’m eating peanut butter crackers, so it can’t be that bad.”