Do Crossword Puzzles Prevent Dementia?

a person working on a crossword puzzle
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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?

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.​

The Bottom Line

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.

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