A recent study adds further evidence that puzzles can be effective for brain health.
But the decision has not yet been made on how they can help us in the long term or whether they can help prevent cognitive decline.
A recent study reported in the National Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that the more people over 50 play games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles, the better their brains work.
The researchers examined the data of approximately 19,100 participants in the PROTECT study to see how often they performed word and number puzzles. Then, they used a series of tests to assess attention, memory, and reasoning.
In short, the more people involved in the puzzles, the better the test results.
According to the study’s tests, people who do puzzles have brain function 10 years younger than their age. In short-term memory tests, people with puzzles had brain function equivalent to eight years less.
The analysis of cross-sectional data evaluated the tests on approximately 19,000 people. The data were self-reported and participants conducted cognitive tests online.
“The improvements are particularly evident in the speed and accuracy of their performance. In some areas, the improvement has been quite dramatic,” said Dr. Anne Corbett, lead author, and lecturer in dementia at the University of Exeter’s Faculty of Medicine.
“We cannot say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia later in life, but this research corroborates previous results that indicate that regular use of words and numbers helps us to keep our brains functioning better longer,” said Ms. Corbett.
Researchers want to follow up with participants over time. They also want to assess the impact of the intensity of the puzzle and take into account the length of time people have been involved in the puzzles.
One of the key concepts of normal brain aging and dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) is that our ability to function is a balance between brain pathology and the cognitive strength of the brain,” says Dr. Gayatri Devi.
“When the pathology is overwhelming, as happens in aggressive dementias, no brain power can help slow the progression,” she says.
“Fortunately, most forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease progress slowly, and we can strengthen the cognitive strength or reserve of our brain to delay the onset of dementia or to prevent it completely.
Using crosswords and other mental exercises to strengthen our brain networks is one way to strengthen the brain, just like physical exercise.
“The trick is to keep the brain stimulated and engaged as you get older,” says Devi.
You don’t need to be a puzzle fanatic to stimulate your brain, but you can also learn a new language or pursue a new hobby.
“Whatever the task, if the problem is difficult enough, all parts of the brain are more or less involved in finding a solution – which is good for overall strengthening of brain networks and improving cognitive reserve,” she says.