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Crosswords and brain puzzles help keep the brain sharp later in life

Older adults who engage in word and math puzzles have sharper minds, according to research led by the University of Exeter and King’s College London.

The massive online PROTECT study was focused on nearly 20,000 adults over the age of 50. The researchers found that, the more regularly the individuals played Sudoku and crosswords, the higher their brain function.

The findings link two important papers, which were previously presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2018. The participants reported on the frequency of their involvement with mind-bending puzzles. The volunteers were also tested for changes in brain function over time.

Based on the assessment of grammatical reasoning, people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to ten years younger than their biological age. In addition, these individuals are cognitively eight years younger based on their short-term memory.

“We’ve found that the more regularly people engage with puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku, the sharper their performance is across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention and reasoning,” said study lead author Dr. Anne Corbett.

“The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance. In some areas the improvement was quite dramatic – on measures of problem-solving, people who regularly do these puzzles performed equivalent to an average of eight years younger compared to those who don’t.”

“We can’t say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia in later life but this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer.”

“PROTECT is proving to be one of the most exciting research initiatives of this decade, allowing us to understand more about how the brain ages and to conduct cutting-edge new studies into how we can reduce the risk of dementia in people across the UK,” said study co-author Professor Clive Ballard. “If you’re aged 50 or over, you could sign up to take part in research that will help us all maintain healthy brains as we age.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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