Can crosswords really be a hedge against dementia?

A new trial suggests that people who do daily crosswords or word-puzzles have a fitter and sharper brains in their later years.

Data analysed from over 17,000 people aged 50 and over and in good health, was collated by a team at the University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College London. They had been asked how frequently they did crosswords or played other word puzzles.

The study used online cognitive test systems to assess core aspects of brain function. It found that the more regularly participants engaged with word puzzles, the better they performed in tasks evaluating attention, reasoning and memory.

Even more encouraging, it appears that people who did daily word games had brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age.

Many of us do crosswords as a form of regular mental exercise, but this becomes more important with time. Moreover, it does not appear to matter whether it is Quick, Cryptic, General Knowledge or Highbrow: they all involve high levels of mental exercise, which can undoubtedly be valuable.

Professor Keith Wesnes, from the University of Exeter, said: “We found direct relationships between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks.”

While Clive Ballard, Professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We know that many of the factors involved in dementia are preventable. 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.”

One thing to keep in mind; cracking crosswords may help keep your brain sharper, but it will not actually make you more intelligent – it just feels that way!


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