Do reading and puzzle-solving fade away dementia?

Do reading and puzzle-solving fade away dementia?

Dementia is a chronic neurological disease that affects memory and thought processes and affects millions of individuals worldwide. The most prevalent type of dementia is Alzheimer’s.

There are various medications available to help manage dementia symptoms, but there is no known treatment for the illness.

Significant research is being done to find out more about the pathophysiology of dementia and to create therapies, but it is also being done to find out how lifestyle changes may affect dementia risk and cognition.

This study looks at the effects of reading and crossword puzzles and other cognitively stimulating activities on dementia risk and cognition.

High levels of cognitive activity, such as reading, playing games like checkers and puzzles, and writing letters, can delay the start of Alzheimer’s disease by five years in those 80 years and older, according to a study published in Neurology in 2021.

Another study indicated that more time spent engaging in cognitively passive activities, like watching TV, is associated with an increased risk of dementia, whereas more time engaged in cognitively active activities, like using a computer, is associated with a decreased risk of dementia.

Five experts were interviewed to learn more about themes such as how cognitively stimulating activities lower the risk of dementia, what else lowers the risk of dementia, and what action should be taken in light of the research.

Engaging pursuits increase mental capacity

Dr. Joyce Gomes-Osman, vice president of interventional therapy at Linus Health and a volunteer assistant professor of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was the first person the experts spoke with.

She claimed that engaging in intellectually demanding activities, like reading and crossword puzzles, increases one’s cognitive reserve, which she compared to the amount of one’s mental library and lowers the chance of developing dementia, and improves cognition.

Every knowledge we acquire is like a book on a shelf. The library keeps expanding as more books are added. You might wonder why this matters, though. Building a library of knowledge in your brain, then, acts as a buffer against memory loss, she explained.

She said, “When your library is large, even if many volumes are checked out, there will still be plenty of other books on the shelves, serving as alternatives and maintaining the library in good condition.”

She outlined how education and experiences in life, particularly those that are difficult and require thought, help people grow their cognitive reserves over the course of their lives.


Researchers looked into the effects of early cognitive development, educational attainment, and leisure activities on cognitive reserve in a recent study that was published in 2022 in Neurology.

From their early years up until the age of 69, they monitored 1,184 persons from the United Kingdom. At that age, the participants underwent a cognitive test with a possible score of 100.

Ultimately, the researchers discovered that those with a bachelor’s degree or more typically scored 1.22 points higher than those with no formal schooling. In comparison to individuals who participated in only four of these activities, those who participated in six or more leisure activities such as educational classes, volunteer work, and social activities scored an average of 1.53 points more.

Meanwhile, those with professional or intermediate-level jobs outperformed those with partially skilled or unskilled jobs by 1.5 points or more on average. Additionally, they discovered that those with better reading skills exhibited a slower rate of cognitive deterioration than those with worse reading skills.

The brain is exercised in several ways during mental exercises.

Dr. David Hunter, an assistant professor of neurology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, was also interviewed by experts. Research, he said, has shown that even people with advanced dementia can benefit from what he refers to as “mental exercise”—anything that simultaneously stimulates various sections of the brain.

Just a few examples are reading, crosswords, painting, conversation, gaming, and work. The sole restriction, in reality, is that watching TV all day doesn’t count.

He noted that if patients are unable to engage in their previous interests, other options include colouring books, music, word searches, and simple chat.

Does the cognitive reserve have a limit?

Even if specialists concur that a person’s cognitive reserve is crucial in assisting them in maintaining their thinking abilities, they also point out that there are limits to how much we can improve this reserve through “mental exercises.”

Raphael Wald, a board-certified neuropsychologist with a doctorate in psychology from Baptist Health Marcus Neuroscience Institute, stated to experts:

“Because they have more cognitive reserve, people with high IQs typically fare better with dementia”. However, once dementia has developed, cognitive activities like crossword puzzles cannot stop the degenerative process. But it might make things go more slowly.

We also had a conversation with Dr. Karen D. Lincoln, a professor at the University of California, Irvine’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health.

While some research indicates that mental workouts like crossword puzzles or word games reduce cognitive deterioration in those with mild cognitive impairment, the research is still ambiguous, she observed.

Puzzles alone may not always enhance cognitive ability or reduce the incidence of dementia, but these kinds of mental tasks are crucial for brain stimulation. Instead of breaking our circulatory system down into discrete sections, we must take it all into account.

Dr. Gomes-Osman concurred that focusing just on mentally stimulating activities is insufficient for lowering the risk of dementia. She pointed out that the “cutting-edge” research in the subject demonstrates that various healthy behaviours are most effective at reducing dementia risk and improving thinking abilities.

What are the 12 modifiable dementia risk factors?

Dr. Gomes-Osman used the Lancet Commission’s 2020 report on dementia prevention, intervention, and care when discussing which behaviours to focus on.

The study identified 12 risk factors for dementia, which together account for 40% of dementia cases.

  • The education level of a person
  • their degree of interpersonal ties
  • unsound hearing
  • workout regimen
  • depression indications
  • using alcohol
  • adult obesity
  • pollution from the air exposure
  • smoking customs
  • head trauma
  • High blood pressure, or hypertension
  • diabetes

According to the report’s authors, addressing these factors can lower the risk of dementia by lowering neuropathological damage. This includes accumulation of tau protein and inflammation, and by either boosting or maintaining cognitive reserve.

Dr. Gomes-Osman stated, “Just to give you an idea, if we all took these steps today, we would reduce dementia cases by over a third next year.”

How to lower the risk of dementia?

It’s crucial to stress that learning something new can strengthen your brain even if you’re already suffering from memory loss. Learning something new will sharpen your memory, focus, and thinking processes while also enhancing your quality of life, according to Dr. Gomes-Osman.

She continued by saying that having fresh, joyful experiences and taking in new sights could both benefit brain function.

Picking something that is neither too easy nor too difficult is crucial in this situation since our brains respond positively to novelty, she explained.

Change the place where you perform your favorite activities. Going to new areas can boost your outlook on life and strengthen your brain“, according to Dr. Gomes-Osman.

Try walking somewhere new if you typically go for a walk, for instance. Additionally, you might choose a different route to get to work or a different grocery store. Even locating the milk aisle in several stores will need you to use creative problem-solving techniques. Don’t let a day pass without getting out and seeing something new, advised Dr. Joyce Gomes-Osman.

“A special note for African Americans,” Dr. Lincoln said, “who have the highest risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the United States.”

If you enjoy playing bid whist, dominoes, or spades, you are truly exercising your brain, he claimed. “The games are played with others, not necessarily because they are difficult or need good recall. Social interaction benefits the brain.


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