Crossword and number puzzles really do help keep old brains sharp

The regular completion of crossword puzzles, a common activity among older adults who hope to retain their cognitive abilities, has been linked to the maintenance of sharper brain function later in life, according to a new study. This is the largest online study related to the potential cognitive benefits of crossword and number-based puzzles, according to an announcement by the University of Exeter.

The research involved an online study with more than 19,000 participants, according to researchers with King's College London and the University of Exeter. The findings are detailed in two different papers published this month, building upon research that previously looked at crossword puzzles in relation to Alzheimer's disease.

Called PROTECT, the study asked participants whether they completed crossword and number puzzles, how frequently they engaged with them, and also tasked these individuals with completing tests related to cognition. Based on the data, the studies found that people who make a habit of engaging with these puzzles are better at tasks related to memory, attention, and reasoning.

As part of their work, the researchers crunched the study's numbers and estimated that people who regularly engaged with these puzzles had cognitive functioning equal to that of someone around a decade younger than their actual least when it came to short term memory.

The apparent benefits were greater in some aspects of brain function compared to others, being described as 'quite dramatic' when it came to problem solving, for example. The findings suggest that the benefits scale to match the frequency with which individuals engage with these puzzles; the more puzzles one engaged with, the greater the benefit they may have experienced.