Are Puzzles the Key to Staying Sharp as we Get Older?

Sudoku and crosswords are just some of the puzzles credited with helping maintain our ‘cognitive reserves’ as we get older, and are on the table at our three wellbeing centres.

The Research

For decades now, research has shown links between puzzles such as Sudoku, crosswords, word searches, jigsaws, and maintaining ‘cognitive reserves’.  These aid our ability to resist any brain damage, including in the form of dementia and other cognitive disorders.

Within findings published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry this year,  researchers noted that ‘adults who regularly complete puzzles perform at a higher level on cognitive tasks compared with those who do not’. Similarly, researchers at Pennsylvania State University found crosswords  ‘improved cognitive functioning in later life’.

‘Brain games’, such as chess, have also been found to help maintain brain functioning. In a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that older people engaging in brain-games like chess are less likely to develop dementia than their non-game-playing peers.

Jack Crowther, a postgraduate student in Northumbria University’s Psychology department, summarised the research available to us thus far:

“There is a vast amount of research suggesting brain training games can help with cognitive decline in the ageing population. Regular engagement with ‘brain games’ and puzzles such as chess, jigsaws, Sudoku, crosswords, and word searches has been linked with improving memory, and decreased chance of Alzheimer’s within older people.”

Your Say

We spoke with members of the 50+ community to find out what they thought about this research, and many were unsurprised.

Mark Wilkinson told us; “I love the odd crossword as it helps keep my mind active, and I discover new words, too.

Susan Lyon agreed; “I just turned fifty, but have been using daily games and puzzles since my early forties to exercise my brain.

John Crowther observed the benefits of chess; “It needs logic applying and strategy, and a very good memory, to be able to think moves ahead of your opponent and retain the ability to adapt. So I think chess is a good example of working the brain.

Whereas wife Janine preferred Sudoku; “It requires logic and each puzzle is different, so while you can strategize you have to rise to the challenge. They are a real brain workout.

Janet Grantham uses brain training games on her iPad, as well as tackling a daily Sudoku. She added; “One lady I sit with is ninety three years old and has Alzheimer’s. She does the Sudoku and daily crossword in the newspaper. The crossword clues prompt her to remember different things she has done or places she has visited.”

How We Help

At our three wellbeing centres, in Wallsend, Killingworth, and North Shields, keeping minds active is a key priority. This is achieved not only through puzzles and brain games, but also through healthy, home-made meals, and a schedule of ‘exercise snacking’ to increase confidence and strength. Customers are also offered the option to take part in gardening activities which have been found to decrease the likelihood of Alzheimer’s in our landscaped and accessible gardens. Additionally, the chance to socialise and connect with peers, helps to improve memory formation, recall, and lowers the chance of neurodegenerative diseases. Our sessions end with a guided reflection on activities undertaken throughout the day. This allows for preferences, likes, and dislikes to be noted, and facilitates further choice for customers.

Puzzles are also used in the Maintenance Cognitive Stimulation Therapy sessions we offer. MCST is a weekly programme, where individuals living with mild to moderate dementia take part in activities designed to improve mental functioning. These take place for a few hours each week, in a fun and supportive environment. Activities include quizzes, visual clips and discussions, word association games, and physical activities. Sessions also include creative and musical activities found to increase verbal recollection and spatial awareness, and conversations on life occupations and history.

For information on how you can reserve a free half day trial in one of our wellbeing centres, please visit:, or call 0191 287 7028

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Article by Summer Dolan ( Marketing Intern)
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