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Crossword puzzles better at preventing memory loss than video games

Crosswords also caused less brain shrinkage (measured with MRI), seen after 78 weeks.

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A person is doing a crossword puzzle. It is a good training for brains specially for elderly people. The word dementia is written on the crossword puzzle. Focus point on the pen tip.
(Sun Shock via Shutterstock)

By Danny Halpin via SWNS

Crosswords are better at preventing memory loss than video games, according to a new study.

Researchers found that 71-year-olds doing web-based crosswords showed greater improvement than those who were trained on video games.

Word puzzles are an everyday feature of life for many people, but their effect on mild cognitive impairment, associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s, had not been studied systematically.

“This is the first study to document both short-term and longer-term benefits for home-based crossword puzzles training compared to another intervention," said Dr. Davangere Devanand, of Columbia University.

“The results are important in light of difficulty in showing improvement with interventions in mild cognitive impairment.”

The research team randomly assigned 107 participants with mild cognitive impairment to either crossword puzzles training or cognitive games training.


There followed intensive training for 12 weeks followed by 78 weeks of booster sessions which participants accessed through a computer at home.

The results, published in the journal NEJM Evidence, showed that crossword puzzles were superior to video games when measured with the most common cognitive test, ADAS-Cog, at weeks 12 and 78.

They were also superior when measured using FAQ, a test of daily functioning, and were more effective for participants in the later stages of disease, though both methods were equal at earlier stages.

Crosswords also caused less brain shrinkage (measured with MRI), seen after 78 weeks.

“The benefits were seen not only in cognition but also in daily activities with indications of brain shrinkage on MRI that suggests that the effects are clinically meaningful," Devanand said.

He said the study also highlights the importance of engagement. Based on remote electronic monitoring of computer use, participants at a later stage of impairment may have engaged better with the more familiar crossword puzzles than with computerized cognitive games.

There was a low drop-out rate (15 percent) for such a lengthy home-based trial and 28 percent of individuals were from ethnic minorities.

However, there was no control group and the authors of the study have stressed the need for a larger controlled trial before making further conclusions.

Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University added: “The trifecta of improving cognition, function and neuroprotection is the Holy Grail for the field.

“Further research to scale brain training as a home-based digital therapeutic for delaying Alzheimer’s should be a priority for the field.”

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