Crossword Puzzles or Video Games: Which Better Protects Your Brain?

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Older adults playing video game
Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock.com

Adults with mild cognitive impairment may be able to boost their brain power by working on crossword puzzles, according to a new study.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York City and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, found that older participants — with an average age of 71 — who were trained to complete computerized crossword puzzles showed bigger cognitive improvement compared with those who were trained to use web-based cognitive video games.

In a summary of the study’s findings, Dr. D.P. Devanand, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Columbia, says:

“This is the first study to document both short-term and longer-term benefits for home-based crossword puzzles training compared to another intervention. The results are important in light of difficulty in showing improvement with interventions in mild cognitive impairment.”

Mild cognitive impairment is a stage between the cognitive decline that is normal with aging and full-blown dementia. Those who have mild cognitive impairment may struggle with memory, language, thinking or judgment.

The researchers note that people with mild cognitive impairment are at a significant risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

As part of the study, 107 participants with mild cognitive impairment were trained for 12 weeks in either crossword puzzles or cognitive games. Follow-up “booster sessions” were then employed for up to 78 weeks.

While both forms of training were equally effective early in the course of disease, crossword puzzles were superior during later stages. And those who used crossword puzzles showed less brain shrinkage at 78 weeks.

Devanand says the study results show that further research on developing a home-based digital therapeutic for delaying Alzheimer’s disease “should be a priority for the field.”