Puzzles do not keep dementia away finds study

Contrary to popular belief doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku puzzles on a regular basis cannot keep dementia away finds a new study. The study appears in the latest issue of the journal BMJ.

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

There have been several anecdotal reports that the more the brain is made to work, sharper it remains as it ages. This new Scottish study has shown that those who tax their brains with puzzles and brain activities do indeed have higher mental faculties. They have a “higher cognitive point” suggest the researchers. But their decline into dementia is just as possible, they add. This decline in mental faculties in addition among those with greater mental abilities is also not slower compared to those with lesser capabilities, they explain.

Lead researcher Dr Roger Staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the University of Aberdeen along with his colleagues looked at 498 individuals who were born in 1936. These individuals had undertaken an IQ test at the age of 11. The data came from the archives of the Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE). The SCRE maintains records of the Scottish Mental Surveys of 1947.

This latest study began when they were all 64 years old and were looked at five times over a 15 year period. They were tested on all those occasions for memory and mental processing speed. They noted that those who were routinely engaged in problem solving had greater mental abilities. However problem solving activities failed to protect individuals from dementia they noted. To come to the causal associations between problem solving activities and dementia, a statistical modelling had to be used since many of the participants either died off or dropped out of the study before it could be completed.

A notable finding of this study was that people who were routinely doing puzzles, Sudoku and other problem solving activities could manage their tasks better. Global Council on Brain Health last year had shown that people who begin early with puzzles, problem solving activities, gardening, learning a musical instrument or designing a quilt etc. were more likely to have improved mental faculties as they aged compared to those who did not.

Dr. Staff adds that this study does not deter people from keeping their brains active and sharp. Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer's Research UK also said that this study only adds to the debate regarding the benefits of these activities on the aging brain and does not outright reject ideas of “use it or lose it”. He pointed out that this study did not include people with a greater risk of dementia and see how much these individuals benefit from these brain training activities. He said in a statement, “In addition to staying mentally active, keeping physically fit, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within recommended guidelines and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we get older.” Similar thoughts were echoed by Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Society.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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