Column: Brain distortion or brainwashing: can crossword puzzles and word games sharpen memory? (2023)

  • Facebook
  • Gore
  • See more sharing options

to share

  • Facebook
  • Gore
  • LinkedIn
  • E-mail
  • copy link urlcopied!
  • Press

It's a daily ritual for millions of people. You wake up, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and finally head outside to do one or more puzzles, word games, and other puzzles.

The test of banking knowledge and problem-solving skills can boost or drain your ego. But either way, you're cleaning the cobwebs, aren't you? It's the "use it or lose it" theory at work, and as I get older I like to think that these mental exercises can help keep my mind sharp and maybe even prevent memory loss, although my wife usually tells me hit. all these games

But is there any science behind it, or is it an illusion?


I'm trying to solve this mystery because since thenstartI heard about the Golden State column two months ago from many readers who, like me, believe at least a little in the value of mental gymnastics.

"To keep my brain working," wrote Jairo Angulo, 73, of West L.A., "I play Wordle, complete Jumble, do Sudoku, KenKen and crosswords every day."

California is being hit by an aging wave, and Steve Lopez is riding it. Her new column will focus on the blessings and burdens of old age and how some people question the stigma attached to the elderly.

Read your other columns

(Video) Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty Full Audiobook English || Jay Shetty's Best Enlightenment Book

José Galván, 77, said he believes his daily routine of crosswords, Wordle and "one or more Sudoku grids" keeps him "mentally sharp".

I don't mean to crush the spirits of Angulo, Galván or anyone else who works daily at the kitchen table with a pencil or digital device in hand, but doing Sudoku or reaching genius level in the spelling bee might not be as beneficial as you might think.

"Solving puzzles itself only improves how you solve them," said Dr. Beau Ances, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in neurodegenerative diseases. "I'm not sure if it improves long-term cognition."

Ances said he has patients who love the puzzles and strongly encourages them to keep going; Having a daily ritual to look forward to is beneficial in many ways. For example, Galván told me that solving a riddle is good for your self-esteem.

Column: Brain distortion or brainwashing: can crossword puzzles and word games sharpen memory? (2)

The word yowza in Merriam Webster's Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. To some people's surprise, scientists say there is no strong evidence to support a link between wordplay and brain health.

(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Another benefit, Ances said, is that because some puzzles get harder as the week progresses, it's helpful for a doctor to know that you used to make it to the end of the week but now have it until Wednesday or Thursday.

But don't count on it to avoid senility.

Debra Cherry, clinical psychologist and executive vice president of Alzheimer's Los Angeles, said there is no strong evidence to support the widespread belief in the value of word games and other brain-enhancing products. actually sheagency websitemakes a caveat:

“There is a lot of information available on the internet about brain health, but it is important to understand that there is currently no proven way to absolutely prevent Alzheimer's or any other dementia. Be careful who promises that."

It's not that there's no hope for progress, Cherry said, and he strongly recommends intellectual stimulation as a component of healthy living. But when it comes to activities that can improve eyesight, he said, "the strongest evidence is aerobic exercise."

In fact, half a dozen experts I interviewed cited exercise, a heart-healthy diet, social engagement, good sleep habits, and general physical health as keys to mental acuity.

"Everyone wants to say, 'Oh, when I do crosswords or, oh, when I eat blueberries,'" said UC Irvine neuroscientist Dr. Claudia Kawas, who started along term studyof Laguna Woods residents age 90 and older. But "a healthy lifestyle includes physical and cognitive activity, period."

dr. Scott Grafton, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of "physical intelligencesays humans didn't evolve to sit around and play word games. 75,000 years ago, he said, they had to face tough physical and social challenges to survive. Because of our heritage, a brisk walk through the woods off the beaten path is better for us than a walk in a park, Grafton said, and "the cognitive challenge in the former promotes brain health in profound ways."

Column: Brain distortion or brainwashing: can crossword puzzles and word games sharpen memory? (3)

The Lancet Commission identified 12 risk factors for dementia, including heavy drinking, smoking and infrequent social contact. Therefore, avoiding these things as much as possible can be more useful than mastering Sudoku.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

dr. Lon Schneider, a professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine and a member of the Lancet Commission on the Prevention of Dementia, once told me that if I occasionally forget where I left my keys, there's nothing to worry about unless you find them. na geladeira. When I asked him about cognitive support, he sent me alancet messagewhich identified 12 risk factors for dementia.

The 12 are binge drinking, head injury, exposure to air pollution, lack of education, high blood pressure, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, and infrequent social contact.

Therefore, avoiding these things as much as possible can be more useful than mastering Sudoku.

But, as we all know, medical science has a long history of rethinking what is good or bad for us, and there is no more mysterious organ in the body than the brain.

And while experts don't fully understand, those I spoke to said learning new things like music and languages ​​can help.

So I was particularly interested in an email from Michael Suttle, a Dana Point resident, who shared a success story.

In 2010, when he was in his late 50s, Suttle, a software salesman, ocean swimmer and trumpeter, forgot phone numbers and dates. The situation got so bad that he started writing his daily planner to avoid missing meetings.

About four years later, he said, "I noticed a noticeable improvement in short-term memory and wondered why."

The improvement came when Suttle returned to music, practiced hard, and won a spot in the newly formed Dana Point Symphony Orchestra. He also joined the Irvine Symphony and, as a soloist, had to learn difficult new music, including Beethoven's Fifth and Ninth Symphonies and Mahler's Third, Fourth and Fifth.

Column: Brain distortion or brainwashing: can crossword puzzles and word games sharpen memory? (4)

Michael Suttle, left, plays with Symphony Irvine and believes the song sharpened his memory.

(Edie van Huss)

"Also, the art of performing this onstage in front of a crowded room takes a lot of focus," said Suttle, who found that she no longer needed to write her daily routine.

I would selfishly like to believe that it was music that changed things for Suttle because I spent time on my guitar and learned Spanish. But without large, far-reaching studies, it's hard to draw solid conclusions about all of this. It could be that, for Suttle, a specific goal and the new social networks are as useful to him as making music.

Daniel Levitin, a musician and neuroscientist who discusses the benefits of puns in his book Aging Successfully, told me that it's a little easier to promote music. When I told him about Suttle, Levitin, who also wrote "This Is Your Brain on Music," said that figuring out a song he'd never played before was probably crucial, challenging his fingers to get complex signals to process in his brain.

"There is a possibility that physical and mental tasks together could be beneficial," Levitin said. "You can't make a musical sound without moving something," and this challenges the brain in ways that create "new levels of connectivity." You won't "avoid Alzheimer's disease," Levitin said, but you might "avoid its noticeable effects."

Another argument for music's benefits comes from a small short-term memory study that looked at adults in their 60s and 80s.Teodoro Zanto,The director of the Division of Neuroscience at UC San Francisco Neuroscape told me that 20 participants played a word search game on a tablet for 20 minutes each day, and another 20 played a game that required them to memorize and repeat a musical rhythm.

Participants completed a before-and-after digital facial recognition test, testing their short-term memory. After eight weeks of play, the word search group showed no improvement, but the music group showed a 4% improvement.

"It's not a big change," Zanto said, but he does suggest that "maybe the music could give you a bit of an edge."

Or through other tasks that challenge the mind or the muscles.

"We're constantly pushing kids to learn things, but we're not pushing ourselves to the other side," Kawas said. "I don't think it's a specific activity, but the more the brain is challenged, probably the better."

So if you have a favorite puzzle, keep playing. But when you're good enough, take on the next challenge and it's never too late to learn an instrument or a new language.


Do crossword puzzles improve memory? ›

Memory and thinking skills may improve with regular crossword practice. A study published in NEJM Evidence found that people with mild memory problems who did web-based crossword puzzles showed improvement in cognition and experienced less brain shrinkage, compared to those who played web-based cognitive games.

Can crosswords prevent dementia? ›

Researchers determined that, out of the participants who eventually developed dementia, those who frequently did crossword puzzles demonstrated a much slower decline in memory. On average, crossword puzzles provided about a two and a half year delay in memory decline compared to those who did not do crossword puzzles.

Why are crosswords good for you? ›

Crossword puzzles provide a way for you to turn off the noise in your head and truly relax. By focusing on the clues and concentrating on the puzzle at hand, you can relax and enjoy a little break away from “the real world.” Studies have shown that crossword puzzles can help us feel calmer and happier.

How often should you do crossword puzzles? ›

Better yet, you don't have to complete a puzzle every day — though there's also nothing holding you back from doing so. Regularly working on crosswords even just once a week, can positively impact your health in several ways.

Are crossword puzzles good for mental health? ›

Stressors in life can vary in their source, but word puzzles (including crosswords) can be a way to relieve stress by offering a valuable way to relax. By taking little breaks absorbed in completing your daily puzzle, it can help you to feel happier and calmer.

Can doing crossword puzzles improve the memories of the elderly? ›

A new study by researchers from Columbia University and Duke University published in the NEJM Evidence(link is external and opens in a new window) shows that doing crossword puzzles has an advantage over computer video games for memory functioning in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

What kind of puzzles help with memory? ›

Healthline's picks of 10 games and puzzles to exercise your brain
  • Scrabble. ...
  • Sagrada. ...
  • Rummikub. ...
  • Jigsaw puzzles. ...
  • Rubik's Cube. ...
  • Azul. ...
  • Sudoku. ...
  • Our Moments Couples: Conversation Starters for Great Relationships.
Jun 17, 2021

Do people with dementia like puzzles? ›

Puzzles – perhaps the ultimate brain activity

For this reason, puzzles are an excellent choice when looking for an activity for your loved one with dementia. Because they exist to be solved, puzzles provide cognitive stimulation, and that is just what we are looking for.

Does playing word games help with dementia? ›

Research suggests that brain stimulating games and other activities might improve cognitive functioning in older adults, as well as possibly reducing the risk of developing dementia.

Do puzzles keep your mind sharp? ›

"Unfortunately, there's really no conclusive evidence supporting that word games and puzzles benefit the brain over time," says Dr. Tanu Garg, a neurologist at Houston Methodist. For instance, studies haven't shown that they help prevent memory loss or reduce the risk of developing dementia.

How to increase memory? ›

  1. Be physically active every day. Physical activity raises blood flow to the whole body, including the brain. ...
  2. Stay mentally active. ...
  3. Spend time with others. ...
  4. Stay organized. ...
  5. Sleep well. ...
  6. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  7. Manage chronic health problems.

Are crossword puzzles good for seniors? ›

Recent studies have identified a number of health benefits daily crossword puzzles can have on an individual, especially the elderly. Many studies find the same results: solving crosswords puzzles later in life is associated with delayed onset of memory decline in those who develop dementia.

What skills do crossword puzzles work on? ›

Crosswords make reading and writing more interesting
  • Crosswords for kids can improve their vocabulary, analytical skills, and memory. It is not just fun, but it is good for the mind. ...
  • Crosswords are excellent tools for developing good memory, common sense, and analytical skills.
Mar 4, 2022

How long does it take the average person to finish a crossword puzzle? ›

Top solvers can complete a Sunday Times crossword, on average, in 8-12 minutes. Ordinary people, of course, can't finish it at all. If you find certain puzzles too hard, do just the ones you enjoy. The more you solve the better you'll get.

How many puzzles should I do a day? ›

Apply the strategy, "treat each move as a puzzle" before every move when you play a game. 10 a day should be enough, I progressed a lot by doing 15 a day. I did them in chunks 5 at a time. Also take your time to solve them ideally, 5- 6 min per puzzles.

What does word puzzles do to your brain? ›

Regularly doing word games like crossword puzzles can improve how long you can keep your focus on a desired task. It also activates your working memory. These skills can promote better thinking or cognitive function over a period of time.

What's better for your brain crossword puzzles or computer games? ›

They also found that those who did crossword puzzles ended up having less brain shrinkage based on MRI results. The scientists concluded that crosswords worked better at slowing cognitive decline than home-based computerized training.

What type of person likes crossword puzzles? ›

Cruciverbalist: A person who enjoys or is skilled at solving crosswords. (ODO) An enthusiast of word games, especially of crosswords.

What are the best puzzles to prevent dementia? ›

Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and word games are similarly beneficial for the brain; playing about 20 minutes a day can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Are puzzles good for the aging brain? ›

Brain games and puzzles provide an older person the opportunity to use their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Jigsaw puzzles for eg, exercise the left and right sides of your brain at once. Your left brain is logical and works in a linear fashion, while your right brain is creative and intuitive.

What type of memory improves with age? ›

A type of memory called semantic memory continues to improve for many older adults. Semantic memory is the ability to recall concepts and general facts that are not related to specific experiences.

What is the best game to help with memory? ›

Games to improve your memory
  1. Crossword puzzles. Crosswords are one of the most classic brain training games. ...
  2. Chess. The game of chess was designed to be a mentally intensive and intellectually challenging game. ...
  3. Jigsaw puzzles. ...
  4. Rebus puzzles. ...
  5. Sudoku. ...
  6. Concentration. ...
  7. Games that require multi-tasking.
Feb 3, 2023

What happens if you do puzzles everyday? ›

Working on a puzzle reinforces connections between brain cells, improves mental speed and is an effective way to improve short-term memory. Puzzles increase the production of dopamine, a chemical that regulates mood, memory, and concentration. Dopamine is released with every success as we solve the puzzle.

What kind of brain likes puzzles? ›

Puzzles activate both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. “Imagination is activated alongside reasoning or reckoning,” Danesi says. “Memory also comes into play, especially in word-based and math-based puzzles.

What do people with dementia crave? ›

It's not uncommon for a person with dementia to experience an increase in cravings for sugary foods, leading to consumption of excessive quantities of sweets, chocolate and cakes. According to Alzheimer's Association, taste buds can diminish when the disease takes hold.

What goes on in the mind of a person with dementia? ›

Becoming lost easily in familiar environments or wandering. Changes in speaking, writing, or expressing thoughts. Disregarding the feelings of others. Experiencing hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia.

What is the best exercise for dementia? ›

Types of exercise for people with dementia
  • Gardening. Gardening is a physical activity that provides an opportunity to get outdoors and is enjoyed by many people. ...
  • Indoor bowls/skittles. ...
  • Dance. ...
  • Seated exercises. ...
  • Swimming. ...
  • Tai chi/qigong. ...
  • Walking.

What helps dementia naturally? ›

Physical exercise, cognitive activities, and social interactions are recognized as the three most effective ways to prevent cognitive decline and improve the sense of self-worth for dementia patients.

What puzzles are good for memory? ›

Games to improve your memory
  • Crossword puzzles. Crosswords are one of the most classic brain training games. ...
  • Chess. The game of chess was designed to be a mentally intensive and intellectually challenging game. ...
  • Jigsaw puzzles. ...
  • Rebus puzzles. ...
  • Sudoku. ...
  • Concentration. ...
  • Games that require multi-tasking.
Feb 3, 2023

Which puzzle is best for brain? ›

Jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, chess and other problem-solving and memory games that stimulate your brain aren't just fun—they may produce lasting benefits. A 2014 study found brain exercises helped older adults maintain reasoning skills and speed of cognition 10 years after the research period came to an end.

How do I restore my memory? ›

  1. Be physically active every day. Physical activity raises blood flow to the whole body, including the brain. ...
  2. Stay mentally active. ...
  3. Spend time with others. ...
  4. Stay organized. ...
  5. Sleep well. ...
  6. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  7. Manage chronic health problems.

What is the best word game for seniors? ›

6 Fun Word Games for Aging Adults
  1. Scrabble Twist. Choose a word game for your loved one that is visible and easy to read, like Scrabble Twist. ...
  2. Boggle. This is a memory-boosting word game your loved one can play with family and friends. ...
  3. Words with Friends. ...
  4. Upwords. ...
  5. Rhyming Ball. ...
  6. Words in Words.
Sep 12, 2017

Which is the No 1 brain game in the world? ›

Sudoku is one of the most popular brain training games online. It's available through a number of different sites, including both Web Sudoku and (which both have iOS and Android apps available). It's also available at the New York Times, USAToday, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.

Do memory games improve memory? ›

The answer is yes, according to the billion-dollar brain-training industry, but research is mixed. Studies evaluating the benefits of brain games and puzzles on memory suggest there may be some varying benefit according to age and the exercises being used.

Are crosswords good for learning? ›

According to a University of Exeter study, older adults who regularly did word and number puzzles had increased mental acuity. A 2011 experiment with members of the Bronx Aging Study found that a regular regimen of crosswords might delay the onset of cognitive decline.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lakeisha Bayer VM

Last Updated: 02/08/2023

Views: 5802

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lakeisha Bayer VM

Birthday: 1997-10-17

Address: Suite 835 34136 Adrian Mountains, Floydton, UT 81036

Phone: +3571527672278

Job: Manufacturing Agent

Hobby: Skimboarding, Photography, Roller skating, Knife making, Paintball, Embroidery, Gunsmithing

Introduction: My name is Lakeisha Bayer VM, I am a brainy, kind, enchanting, healthy, lovely, clean, witty person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.