Daily crossword puzzling may guard against cognitive decline

"Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in puzzles, and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use," said researcher Keith Wesnes.
By Brooks Hays  |  July 17, 2017 at 10:35 AM
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July 17 (UPI) -- If you took a break from your morning crossword routine to read this story, congratulations, you're likely to stay sharper than your peers as you age -- new research suggests daily crossword puzzling can help guard against cognitive decline.

When researchers in England had 17,000 healthy participants, all 50 years and older, complete an online survey and series of tests, they found those who reported regularly completing crossword puzzles scored higher on assessments of attention, reasoning and memory.

Regular crossword puzzlers showcased grammatical reasoning speed and short term memory accuracy equivalent to test-takers ten years younger.

"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," Keith Wesnes, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a news release. "Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in puzzles, and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use."

Wesnes and his colleagues now plan to test the cognitive benefits of crossword puzzling in a clinical trial.

"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," said Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society. "To be able to say for sure, the crucial next step is to test if there are benefits in people who take up word puzzles."

The team of neuroscientists recruited test-takers from the PROTECT online platform, a group of 22,000 study participants managed by researchers at the University of Exeter and Kings College London. Members of the online platform are all healthy individuals between the ages of 50 and 96. Researchers meet annually with members to maintain accurate records and ensure cognitive trajectories are properly tracked. However, most studies utilizing the platform are conducted online.

Despite the latest findings, Brown and other dementia researcher say the most definitive ways to prevent cognitive decline are staying physically active, avoiding smoking and eating healthy.

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