Researchers have discovered that crossword puzzles help to better sharpen memory in older individuals suffering from mild cognitive impairment, in comparison to computer games. While crossword puzzles are popularly used, no research has systematically studied them and their association with mild cognitive impairment until now. Mild cognitive impairment is known to heighten the risk of an individual developing dementia.
The study was led by Professor D.P. Devenand of Columbia University and Professor Murali Doraiswamy, director of the Neurocognitive Disorders Program at Duke University School of Medicine.
For their study, the researchers recruited more than 100 participants suffering from mild cognitive impairment, a majority of who were around 71 years of age. They were all required to finish 12 weeks of either cognitive games training or computerized crossword puzzle training. Once this was done, each of the participants would undergo six booster sessions.
The cognitive games included matching tasks, memory tasks, processing speed tasks and spatial recognition tasks while the crossword puzzles were set to be equivalent to the Thursday puzzles of the New York Times.
The researchers found that most of the participants who underwent crossword puzzle training demonstrated higher improvements in cognitive function as compared to those who underwent training for cognitive games. They also discovered that while both training forms were equally effective when introduced at early stages of degenerative conditions, crossword puzzles were better for participants who were in the late stages of such conditions.
In addition, researchers took MRIs for every participant, which led them to discover that brain shrinkage was less for individuals who undertook crossword puzzles.
Doraiswamy, who is specialized in psychiatry and geriatrics, stated that the group’s findings were both important and surprising, noting that they were focused on finding ways to lower the risk for various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. In their report, the investigators observed that older individuals were more familiar with crossword puzzles in comparison to computerized games. They also highlighted some of the study’s limitations, which included the lack of a control group that didn’t take part in cognitive training.
The study’s findings were reported in “NEJM Evidence.” It received funding from the NIH National Institute on Aging.
Other researchers involved in the study include Min Qian, Terry Goldberg, Joel R. Sneed, Sara N. Rushia, Caroline A. Hellegers, Julia Phillips, Alexandra R. Linares, Nancy A. Kerner, Howard F. Andrews, Jeffrey R. Petrella, Sierra T. Pence, Izael Nino and Andrew M. Michael.
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