Puzzles & Quizzes

For a Sharper Brain in Old Age, Pick Up a Crossword Puzzle

Healthy brains are happy brains. But keeping noggins running at peak performance? Science hasn't cracked that nut. Brain-training games? Nah, nice try though. Let's get back to basics: How about crossword puzzles?

Five-Letter Word For Thinking Organ?

While the tougher clues frustrate you to no end, your brain is on the other end of crossword puzzles lovin' it up. According to data presented in July 2017, the more regularly people reported doing word puzzles (like crosswords), the better their brain function later in life. This research, done by experts at the University of Exeter Medical School and King's College London, included online responses from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and over. It found that the puzzle-doers performed better on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory.

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

"Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use. For example, on test measures of grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy, performing word puzzles was associated with an age-related reduction of around 10 years. 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." That's right: Ten. Years.

Preventia Dementia

Not so fast. This information suggests there's a link, but it's not necessarily waving crosswords over our heads as a miracle elixir. "We know that keeping an active mind can help to reduce decline in thinking skills." said Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research of Alzheimer's Society.

"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." The only way to find that out for sure is to test. "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," said Dr. Brown. Yup, you already know what to do: Healthy lifestyle choices and exercise, baby. It's probably safe to say a few crosswords here and there won't hurt either.

Can You Really 'Train' Your Brain?

Written by Joanie Faletto August 1, 2017

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