Regularly doing crosswords and other word puzzles is linked to better brain function in later life, new research finds.
The study analysed data from over 17,000 people aged over 50.
They were asked how often they did word puzzles like crosswords.
The results showed that people who regularly did word puzzles had brains that were the equivalent of 10 years younger.
Professor Keith Wesnes, one of the study’s authors, said:
“We found direct relationships between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks assessing a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning and memory.
Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in puzzles, and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use.
For example, on test measures of grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy, performing word puzzles was associated with an age-related reduction of around 10 years.
We now need to follow up this very exciting association in a clinical trial, to establish whether engaging in puzzles results in improvement in brain function.”
Professor Clive Ballard, commenting on the study, said:
“We know that many of the factors involved in dementia are preventable.
It is essential that we find out what lifestyle factors really make a difference to helping people maintain healthy brains to stop the soaring rise of the disease.
We can’t yet say that crosswords give you a sharper brain — the next step is to assess whether encouraging people to start playing word games regularly could actually improve their brain function.”
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research of Alzheimer’s Society, said:
“We know that keeping an active mind can help to reduce decline in thinking skills.
This new research does reveal a link between word puzzles, like crosswords, and memory and thinking skills, but we can’t say definitively that regular ‘puzzling’ improves these skills.
To be able to say for sure, the crucial next step is to test if there are benefits in people who take up word puzzles.
In the meantime our top tips to reduce the risk of developing dementia are keeping physically active, avoiding smoking and eating a healthy balanced diet.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017.