It’s well established that keeping an active mind reduces cognitive decline and, perhaps most importantly, significantly reduces the risk of dementia. A new study suggests that daily crosswords could also be intellectually stimulating enough to keep brain functions fresh later in life.

man solving crosswords

Credit; Pixabay, Biedermann

The findings were reported by a team at the University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College London that analyzed data from 17,000 healthy individuals aged 50 and over. All the participants submitted answers to cognitive test systems exclusively online. These include the CogTrackTM and PROTECT tests that assess core aspects of brain function like attention, reasoning, and memory.

All of the aforementioned functions seem to perform better in people who regularly solve crosswords. Those who solve word puzzles had a reported brain function equivalent to those ten years younger than their age, based on grammar reasoning speed and short term memory accuracy tests. The more frequent the word puzzle use, the better the participant’s performance at nine cognitive tasks.

“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,” said Keith Wesnes, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School.

The more people engaged with crosswords, the better they scored at short term accuracy tests. Credit: University of Exeter.

The more people engaged with crosswords, the better they scored on short term accuracy tests. Credit: University of Exeter.

crossword test result

Grammatical Reasoning Speed is shown. Credit: University of Exeter

The next step will be to assess whether encouraging people to start playing word games regularly mirrors these results recently presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017. “We can’t yet say that crosswords give you a sharper brain,” commented Clive Ballard, Professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School.

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Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know that keeping an active mind can help to reduce

“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.”

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