Looking to Slow Cognitive Decline? You May Want to Pick Up a Crossword Puzzle

A crossword puzzle is a good way to pass the time, whether you’re waiting for a flight or you just enjoy the challenge of filling those boxes in. A new study finds that this popular activity may also be beneficial for those living with mild cognitive impairment.

In a study recently published in the journal NEJM Evidence, researchers from Columbia and Duke universities tested the impacts of computer games and crossword puzzles on patients with mild cognitive impairment. They found that crossword puzzles provided many benefits, including slight improvements in cognitive scores and slower functional decline than in those using video games. The team says the findings indicate this basic intervention could be helpful for those with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI.


Dr. D.P. Devanand, lead researcher and 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.”

To test the effectiveness of video games and crossword puzzles as interventions, the study randomly assigned 107 MCI patients to groups that trained with either method on a computer for 12 weeks. They then had regular booster sessions for up to 78 weeks.


Apart from the increased cognitive scores and slower functional decline, the team also found that brain shrinkage was smaller at week 78 for the crossword puzzle cohort. Those in later stage MCI experienced similar benefits, as well.

Dr. Devanand says, “The benefits were seen not only in cognition but also in daily activities with indications of brain shrinkage on MRI that suggests that the effects are clinically meaningful.”

The team says the strengths of the study included a low drop-out rate and a large percentage of participants from racial and ethnic minority groups. However, they said a limitation was a lack of a control group that didn’t train with either method. They also say a larger study with a control is needed to confirm the findings.


Crossword puzzles aren’t the only brainy activity that may help maintain cognitive function. Another recent study found that regularly reading and writing may help lower dementia risk, too.

Alzheimer’s Support

Fund Alzheimer’s research and supplies at The Alzheimer’s Site for free!