A simple crossword may be better than brain training when it comes to warding off dementia.
Brain training has become increasingly popular in recent years, focusing on keeping people’s brains active by having them play cognitively demanding computer games.
But older people tend to be more familiar with crosswords, which also increase brainpower, and may find these puzzles easier to complete.
A new study recruited more than 100 people aged 55 to 95 with mild cognitive impairment but no dementia, and asked half of them to do brain training.
Brain training has become increasingly popular in recent years, focusing on keeping people’s brains active by having them play cognitively demanding computer games. But older people tend to be more familiar with crossword puzzles, which also boosts brainpower. Pictured: Crossword in the October 27 issue of the Daily Mail
The rest made crosswords of medium difficulty, which they had 30 minutes to complete.
The study involved four brain training or crossword sessions per week for three months, then four booster sessions over the next 15 months.
Memory problems got slightly worse over the full 18 months in those who did brain training.
But people given crosswords improved when tested for their mental abilities.
HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY MEMORY?
Convince yourself that you have a good memory that will improve
Too many people get stuck here and convince themselves that their memory is bad, that they are just not good with names, that numbers are slipping out of their heads for some reason. Erase those thoughts and promise to improve your memory.
Keep your brain active
The brain is not a muscle, but regular “exercise” of the brain makes it grow and stimulates the development of new nerve connections that can help improve memory.
By developing new mental skills — especially complex ones, such as learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument — and challenging your brain with puzzles and games, you can keep your brain active and improve its physiological functioning .
Regular aerobic exercise improves circulation and efficiency throughout the body, including the brain, and can help prevent the memory loss associated with aging. Exercise also makes you more alert and relaxed, and therefore can improve your memory recording, allowing you to take better mental ‘pictures’.
Chronic stress, while it doesn’t physically damage the brain, can make remembering much more difficult. Even temporary tensions can make it harder to focus effectively on concepts and observe things. Try to relax, do yoga or other stretching exercises regularly, and see a doctor if you have severe chronic stress.
Source: Queen’s University Belfast
dr. DP Devanand, who led the study at Columbia University, said: “This is the first study to compare crosswords and brain training, and it suggests that older people with cognitive impairments could benefit more from doing crosswords.”
‘Crossword puzzles are liked by many people.
“The benefits were seen not only in cognition, but also in daily activities and in reduced loss of brain volume.”
Studies in people aged 18 to 80 have previously found that brain training games stimulate the mental abilities of people without pre-existing memory problems.
But researchers believe that crossword puzzles may be better for older people struggling with forgetfulness because the puzzles are less technical.
The study comparing the two techniques repeatedly used a cognitive test over 18 months to assess people’s mental abilities.
This test, marked at 70, included tasks such as naming objects and recalling words.
People who did brain training, with typical games, including memorizing images flashing on a screen, saw their test score drop by 0.4 points in 18 months.
But surprisingly, people who did old-fashioned crossword puzzles saw a nearly one-point improvement in their questionnaire score, according to the study, published in the journal NEJM Evidence.
This was described as a ‘small to medium’ boost in mental abilities, but still significant.
For context, an antidementia drug that increased the average test score by two points — just slightly higher than the effect of crosswords — would typically be approved by US regulators, the researchers note.
The increase in brainpower, seen mainly in people with more advanced memory loss, could have a significant effect on the daily lives of older people struggling with their memory.
Those who did crosswords also scored slightly higher than the brain-training group in a questionnaire about their ability to perform everyday tasks, such as shopping, paying bills, remembering appointments and taking medications.
After 18 months, the crossword group showed less shrinkage in their hippocampus, the brain’s memory area, and less shrinkage in their cortex.
When it comes to amnesia in old age, experts often use the phrase “use it or lose it.”
More use of the brain, for puzzles such as crosswords, would reduce the brain’s natural shrinkage, which can reduce memory loss and prevent dementia.
Mild cognitive impairment can be reversed so that people have mental abilities back within a normal range, but if it gets worse, it can lead to dementia.
The study concludes: ‘Participants with late MCI may have found the (brain training) games too difficult to understand and perform satisfactorily.
“In contrast, most older adults are familiar with crossword puzzles, which were of moderate difficulty during the trial and allowed participants to set their own pace.”
The study asked people to create crosswords on a screen, such as those available in the Daily Mail Plus app.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT DEPRIVES SUFFERING OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CARE
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (affecting the brain) that affect memory, thinking, and behavior.
There are many different forms of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common.
Some people may have a combination of dementias.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global problem, but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live very old.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports that there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is expected to increase to 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 percent of diagnosed individuals.
There are an estimated 5.5 million Alzheimer’s patients in the US. A similar percentage increase is expected in the coming years.
As a person gets older, so does the risk of developing dementia.
Diagnoses are improving, but it is believed that many people with dementia still remain undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently, there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow progression, and the sooner it’s noticed, the more effective treatments are.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society