More than a game: Crosswords and puzzles may reduce dementia risk

Playing games, doing crosswords, writing letters or learning something new are all associated with reduced dementia risk in older adults, according to a large, long-term study.

A team of Melbourne and US-based researchers study tracked 10,318 older Australians over a period of ten years (2010 to 2020), collecting detailed information on the types of leisure activities they engaged in, along with regular health checks and cognitive assessments.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open.

Paper co-author Dr Joanne Ryan from Monash University says “the findings show that engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help preserve cognitive function and may help delay the onset of dementia.”

“We know the importance of physical activity. We need to think about helping to keep our mind stimulated as well.”

Adult literacy activities such as writing, using a computer or taking education classes were associated with an 11% lower risk of dementia, the study found. 

Active mental health activities such as playing games or doing puzzles were associated with a 9% lower risk.

Creative activities like craft or woodwork and passive mental activities (reading books, watching television or listening to the radio) also reduced risks but to a lesser extent.

Meanwhile, social activities were not associated with dementia risk. Ryan says this was a “little bit unexpected”. But she says it’s possible one of the reasons is those who volunteered to participate in the study were broadly already socially engaged. 

The median age of those participating in the study was 73.8 years. Around 2% of the cohort participating in the study developed dementia, Ryan says. 

Dementia risk varies depending on age and health status of individuals, she says.

For instance, “we know that the risk of dementia actually increases exponentially as you get then over 80 years and over 90 years,” she says.

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