Older Adults Who Play Crosswords and Number Puzzles Have Sharper Brains: Study

Puzzles brain functionTwo linked papers published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry have found that older adults who regularly take part in number and word puzzles have sharper brain function. Researchers had previously presented findings on a connection between word puzzles and brain health, but this new information builds on this to include those who regularly complete number puzzles.

The findings show that the more regularly adults over the age of 50 played puzzles such as Sudoku and crosswords, the better their brain function. The research was drawn from more than 19,000 participants lead by the University of Exeter and King’s College London.


The participants were asked in the study to report how frequently they would play number and word puzzles. They were then asked to engage in a series of cognitive tests sensitive to measuring changes in brain function. The results showed that the more regularly participants played the puzzles, the better they performed on tasks assessing reasoning, attention, and memory.

From these results, researchers were able to calculate that those who play word puzzles regularly have brain function equivalent to those ten years younger than their age on tests assessing grammatical reasoning. They also found that they showed as eight years younger than their age on tests measuring short term memory.

Dramatic Improvement

Dr. Anne Corbett, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We’ve found that the more regularly people engage with puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku, the sharper their performance is across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention, and reasoning. The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance. In some areas the improvement was quite dramatic – on measures of problem-solving, people who regularly do these puzzles performed equivalent to an average of eight years younger compared to those who don’t. We can’t say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia in later life, but this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer.”

The study used for this research called PROTECT is an online platform run by the University of Exeter and Kings College London. Currently, more than 22,000 people aged between 50 and 96 are registered in the study, and it is expanding into other countries, including the United States and Hong Kong. The online platform enables researchers to conduct and manage studies such as this memory testing without the need for laboratory visits.

With more ways to test, such as PROTECT, researchers can follow up with people annually to explore how the brain ages and what might influence the risk of dementia later in life. Participants in these studies such as PROTECT also have access to brain training programs that have been shown to benefit brain function, as well as having the opportunity to take part in exciting new research studies into brain health and dementia prevention.