LONDON — Newspapers may be a dying breed, but tucked inside your local paper may be the key to a younger, healthier brain. That’s because a new study finds that doing a crossword puzzles regularly may help lead to better brain health later in life — so much so that older crossword puzzle loyalists show brain functionality similar to someone at least 10 years their junior.
Researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College London surveyed more than 17,000 healthy people at least 50 years old on how often they do word puzzles, such as a crossword. They then tested participants’ brain strength by seeing how strong they were in various key cognitive functions, such as memory, reasoning, and attention.
The results showed that those who regularly engaged in word puzzles showed cognition levels equal to someone 10 years younger than them, particularly when it came to testing grammar skills and short-term memory ability. In fact, the more often a person did a puzzle, they better they performed on the executive function tests.
“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,” says study co-author Keith Wesnes, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, in a press release.
Wesnes says the next step for researchers is to launch a clinical trial proving whether or not doing word puzzles actually causes a person’s brain to be healthier and may prevent them from conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“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,” says Clive Ballard, Professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School. “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.”
The study’s findings were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017.