An online study has revealed that people who consistently solve crossword puzzles have improved brain function later in life. People who regularly engage in crossword puzzles and other word challenges performed better on tasks that evaluated memory, attention, and reasoning.
Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College collected data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and over. The team asked participants how frequently they completed word puzzles such as crosswords. The individuals were given tests to assess their grammatical reasoning speed and the accuracy of their short term memory.
The results of the study indicate that people who frequently solve word puzzles have brain function equivalent to ten years younger than their age.
Keith Wesnes is a professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School.
“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,” explained Wesnes. “Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in puzzles, and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use.”
The researchers used the PROTECT online platform for the study. This platform makes it possible for researchers to conduct large-scale evaluations without the need for lab work. There are currently more than 22,000 healthy people aged between 50 and 96 registered as participants. PROTECT is a 10-year study that follows up with individuals annually in an effort to achieve a better understanding of cognitive function in this age range.
The research was presented this year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The study is one of the largest of its kind to examine core features of brain function. Clive Ballard is a professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School.
“We know that many of the factors involved in dementia are preventable,” said Ballard. “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.”