Brain training puzzles do not lower your risk of dementia

elderly woman doing crossword

Putting your brain through its paces with puzzles such as Sudoku or crosswords, will not have an impact on mental decline as we age.

That is according to a recent study by Dr Roger Staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the University of Aberdeen.

The study, unfortunately, goes against a wide held belief that keeping your brain active was a great way to slow cognitive decline.

Regularly exercising the brain throughout life will give a person higher mental abilities. However, the ‘higher cognitive point’ that was earned through intellectual activities will not decline any slower.

Dr Staff’s study looked at 498 people born in 1936, who took an intelligence test when they were 11.

Dr staff gave them memory and mental speed processing tests when they were 64 and recalled them for more tests up to five times over the next 15 years.

His results showed that intellectual activity didn’t protect a person from mental decline. However, it did give the person a high level of mental ability in old age.

Dr Staff said that the study showed that while puzzles didn’t counteract mental decline, they were still beneficial.

A separate report by the Global Council last year suggested that it would be better for brain function later in life to perform stimulating activities such as playing a musical instrument or gardening rather than brain training.

The younger a person started, the more benefit they would have as they aged.

Dr David Reynolds is the chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK. He believes that Dr Staff’s research may be inconclusive but can still be used in the ongoing ‘use it lose it’ debate.

He added that it doesn’t help assess the how much puzzles can help people avoid dementia as the participants didn’t suffer from the condition.

Dr Reynolds said: “In addition to staying mentally active, keeping physically fit, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within recommended guidelines and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we get older.”

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Although playing ‘brain games’ such as Sudoku may not prevent dementia, is has been shown that regularly challenging yourself mentally seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease.”