How your daily crossword puzzle could be the strategic move to reducing your risk of dementia

Jul 17, 2023
Crosswords could be the answer to preventing dementia. Source: Getty

Your daily crossword may be doing you more good than you realise, as a new Australian-based study is suggesting that older puzzlers are fighting the likelihood of early-onset dementia.

Published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers from Monash University found that over 10,000 Australians aged 70 and older who “regularly engaged in adult literacy and mental acuity tasks” such as education classes, keeping journals, and doing crosswords had a 9 to 11 per cent chance of reducing their dementia risk.

As of 2022, the Australian Insitute of Health and Welfare estimated that there were over  400,000 Australians living with dementia, with an equivalent of 84 people with dementia per 1,000 Australians aged 65 and over. And according to the study’s senior author, Associate Professor Joanne Ryan, finding new strategies to delay dementia is a huge priority.

“We had a unique opportunity to close a gap in knowledge by investigating a broad range of lifestyle enrichment activities that older adults often undertake, and assess which of those were most strongly aligned with avoiding dementia,” Ryan said.

While previous studies have shown a link between creative hobbies like crafting and knitting as a way to reduce the risk of the condition, Ryan and her team’s findings could play an important role in helping aged care professionals plan ways to help older adults avoid cognitive decline.

“I think what our results tell us is that active manipulation of previously stored knowledge may play a greater role in dementia risk reduction than more passive recreational activities,” she said.

“Keeping the mind active and challenged may be particularly important.”

This new study further backs evidence discovered by scientists at the University of Exeter, who previously found the more regularly people engaged with puzzles, the better they performed in attention, reasoning and memory tasks.

In fact, results showed that those who engaged in word puzzles had brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age for tests assessing grammatical reasoning and eight years younger for tests that measure short-term memory.

The latest findings come years after the World Health Organisation (WHO) released new guidelines proven to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling weight, eating a healthy diet and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels were flagged as effective ways of reducing the risk of dementia.

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