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People who regularly do crosswords or other word puzzles have brains “10 years younger” than their age, researchers revealed today.
One of the largest studies of its kind, involving more than 17,000 people, measured attention, short-term memory and speed of response to grammatical tests.
It found that those who played word-puzzle games performed better — with people who completed more than one crossword a day performing best.
Experts believe the study, being presented at an international conference in London today on Alzheimer’s, suggests ways of maintaining a sharper brain in later life.
Keith Wesnes, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Exeter medical school, said: “Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in puzzles, and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use.
“On test measures of grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy, performing word puzzles was associated with an age-related reduction of around 10 years.”
The study tested healthy people aged 50 to 96 enrolled on an online research project run by Exeter University and King’s College London.
It found “direct relationships” between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks.
But it did not establish if getting people to complete crosswords could halt decline or improve the function of their brain.
Clinical trials will be needed to test this theory.
There is no cure for dementia, but “cognitive stimulation” has been thought to help stave off worsening symptoms.
About 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, including more than 40,000 people under 65 with “early onset” dementia.
Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at Exeter, said: “We know that many of the factors involved in dementia are preventable.
“It is essential that we find out what lifestyle factors really make a difference to helping people maintain healthy brains to stop the soaring rise of the disease.”
Dr Doug Brown, director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The crucial next step is to test if there are benefits in people who take up word puzzles.
In the meantime our top tips to reduce the risk of developing dementia are keeping physically active, avoiding smoking and eating a healthy balanced diet.”
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