Older adults who regularly play word and number puzzles tend to have sharper brain function, according to new U.K. research published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
“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 leader Dr. Anne Corbett from the University of Exeter Medical School in England.
“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.”
The researchers have presented previous findings on word puzzles at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2018. The new research, which involved more than 19,000 participants, builds on these findings and also reports the same effect in people who regularly complete number puzzles.
“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,” said Corbett.
The study used participants in the PROTECT online platform run by the University of Exeter and Kings College London. Currently, more than 22,000 healthy people ages 50 and 96 are registered in the study, and the study is expanding into other countries including Hong Kong and the U.S. The online platform enables researchers to conduct and manage large-scale studies without the need for laboratory visits.
For the current experiment, the researchers asked PROTECT participants to report how frequently they engage in word and number puzzles and to complete a series of cognitive tests sensitive to measuring changes in brain function.
They discovered that the more regularly participants engaged with the puzzles, the better they performed on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory.
Based on these results, the researchers calculate that people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age, on tests assessing grammatical reasoning and eight years younger than their age on tests measuring short term memory.
“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 U.K.,” said Dr. Clive Ballard, Professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School.
“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.”
Source: University of Exeter