Do Crossword Puzzles Prevent Dementia?

Puzzles are frequently touted as being good for our brains. They keep us mentally active and challenge us. But, is it true that puzzles prevent dementia or even improve our memory?

man doing crossword puzzle
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What Research Says

Research conducted in nursing homes in 2011 found that puzzles, combined with physical activity, practicing activities of daily living and a spiritual element (such as the singing of a hymn or discussion about happiness) prevented a decline in the residents' cognitive abilities for twelve months. The other residents received care as usual and demonstrated a cognitive decline over twelve months.

Another research study involved 448 participants who were living in the community (not a facility) and were cognitively intact at the start of the study. The researchers measured the participants' cognitive functioning every 12-18 months and noted their frequency of doing crossword puzzles.

Researchers determined that, out of the participants who eventually developed dementia, those who frequently did crossword puzzles demonstrated a much slower decline in memory. On average, crossword puzzles provided about a two and a half year delay in memory decline compared to those who did not do crossword puzzles.

A third study found that doing crossword puzzles, along with multiple other mental activities such as reading, board games, playing cards, musical instruments, and other hobbies, was associated with a decreased risk of dementia.

However, not all research supports doing crossword puzzles. One study compared completing computerized crossword puzzles- specifically, ones that don't progress to a more difficult level- to a structured computerized cognitive training program. The study found that the cognitive training group maintained or even improved their cognitive functioning over the course of a year, while the crossword puzzle group declined.​

A Word From Verywell

Stay mentally active. There's some support in research for crossword puzzles, but the bigger theme behind it is to continue to challenge yourself mentally to reduce your risk of dementia.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementia. 2010 August; 25(5): 432–438. Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia: The MoVIES Project.

  • BMC Medicine 2011, 9:129. Non-pharmacological, multicomponent group therapy in patients with degenerative dementia: a 12-month randomized, controlled trial.

  • Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 2011 Nov;17(6):1006-13. Association of crossword puzzle participation with memory decline in persons who develop dementia.

  • Neurology. September 15, 2009 vol. 73 no. 11 854-861. Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly: Results from the Three-City Study.

  • Neurology. Volume 73, pages 356-361, August 2009. Cognitive Activities Delay Onset of Memory Decline in Persons Who Develop Dementia.

  • PLOS ONE. Published: May 01, 2013. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Cognitive Training Using a Visual Speed of Processing Intervention in Middle Aged and Older Adults.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.