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Crossword puzzles help prevent dementia

The fear of developing cognitive disorders such as dementia as one grows older has led to a growing body of research around slowing and even reversing the mental aging process. One piece of advice is to start early and understand the importance of improving your mental health at a young age. While the primary biological causes of dementia are complex and vast, there has been some useful research on the behaviours we can practice to effectively manage and potentially delay, if not prevent, the disease.

A simple lifestyle change can be enough to lower your risk of dementia and ultimately delay an impending cognitive decline. One such lifestyle change is as easy as developing the habit of playing crossword puzzles daily. Puzzles are often touted as being highly beneficial to our brain’s health since they keep us mentally active while providing a good source of entertainment. More and more, the research supports the idea that working on these puzzles can do a world of good for improving our memory and preventing dementia as we grow older.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, you’re likely to lower your risk of cognitive disorders like dementia by keeping your mind active. While more long-term studies are still being carried out to solidify this theory and get strong evidence that supports the link between being mentally active and reducing the risk of dementia, the current outlook is quite promising.

Ian M Mcdonough, a researcher on memory and ageing, argues that the "use it or lose it" theory of brain health has some merits. By engaging with new and difficult problems in the form of games and puzzles, adults may be able to keep their mind's sharp and stave off cognitive decline. 

So, by regularly choosing a mentally challenging activity that keeps the wheels of your imagination turning, you're doing your brain a favour by keeping it healthy and stronger.

It’s important that you choose an activity that you enjoy when exercising your brain so that you can keep yourself challenged without getting bored. The search for new activities itself can be worthwhile. For those with a love of language, there are plenty of games out there that you may enjoy playing, and solving a daily crossword puzzle is a fantastic option.

Researchers conducted a study involving nearly 450 participants living in a public community who had good cognitive abilities at the start of the study. The researchers carefully measured their cognitive abilities every 12-to-18 months while recording how frequently they played crossword puzzles.

At the end of the study, the researcher concluded that out of the participants who eventually developed symptoms of dementia, those who frequently solved crossword puzzles suffered a much slower memory decline in comparison to those who didn’t—with an average delay of about two-and-a-half years.

By solving crossword puzzles, you’re reinforcing the current connections between the neurons in your brain. This type of activity increases and strengthens the number of new relationships forged between these brain cells. The more consistently you work on puzzle, the greater your chances of improving your retention ability and increasing the speed of your thought processes.

Constantly communicating and speaking with your friends and family can keep your brain active too. At the same time, social connections are known to reduce feelings of depression and loneliness,  which in turn can drastically lower your risk of developing dementia as you age. By playing crosswords with your family and friends, you’ll build stronger social bonds with them through light conversation and the overall fun the games bring.

More importantly, those who lack adequate social interaction are not only susceptible to dementia, but a host of other health-related issues, such as obesity or chronic drinking and smoking. Therefore, by simply inviting your family or friends to join you in working on puzzles, you’re improving your overall mental and physical health. Unlike with the use of medical supplements, there are no health risks associated with simply exercising your mind to solve problems. Thus, in addition to healthy dieting and regular exercise, mental exercise may be an important part of dementia prevention programs.

While there is still some debate and limited research on the exact mental health benefits of solving crossword puzzles, there is sufficient research to show that it indeed has a positive impact on brain health, with no downsides.  


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