Each week, OMRF Vice President of Clinical Affairs Dr. Judith James opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
I enjoy writing this column. But if I had my druthers, I’d be doing a crossword puzzle right now. Like many, I look forward to this daily ritual.
Over the years, I’ve heard countless times that my hobby also helps ward off dementia. Is this true? I bet there are lots of cruciverbalists like me eager for a clue.
Dr. James Prescribes
Although there is widespread agreement among experts that keeping your mind (and body) active as you age helps slow cognitive decline, studies that have examined a wide range of approaches have failed to show strong evidence for any. The research on crosswords, unfortunately, fits squarely in this category.
A 1999 Michigan State University study found no evidence that people who did crosswords at least twice a week had less cognitive decline.
Since then, a number of observational studies – which look at people’s behavior and try to establish causal links between those activities and certain outcomes – have yielded results suggesting crossword puzzles could help prevent or slow illnesses like Alzheimer’s. But the evidence is far from convincing.
A study of almost 20,000 cognitively healthy people aged 50 to 93 found that those who did word games at least monthly performed significantly better across all cognitive domains than those who never did them. People who played most frequently showed the highest measures of attention.
However, the study didn’t examine if the “frequent puzzlers” were also those with the highest levels of cognitive function to begin with – and, thus, were more likely to engage in activities like crossword puzzles. So, it’s hard to separate cause from effect.
Recently, research funding by the National Institute on Aging found that over a year and a half, in a small group of adults aged 55-59 with mild cognitive impairment, regular crossword play seemed to slow mental decline. In fact, it did so more effectively than the popular online cognitive training platform Lumosity.
While far from definitive, these results are encouraging. Rest assured more research will follow. In the meantime, keep up the crossword habit. You enjoy it, and it may even help keep your brain healthy.
Do you have a health query for Dr. James? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!