Background: Cognitive stimulation is widely recognized as valuable for older adults for at least two major reasons. First it may maintain and even enhance cognitive performance in old age, and second it may delay the onset and/or potentially prevent Alzheimer's disease. To date, however, it is not known which types of cognitive stimulation may be most beneficial or cost effective. One recent study suggests that crossword puzzles may significantly delay the onset of memory decline in persons who develop dementia. Although it has long been thought that crossword puzzling may be beneficial for older adults surprisingly little empirical work has been conducted to examine how or why it may be beneficial. Hence, the primary purpose of this study was to determine whether training in crossword puzzles would lead to improved cognitive performance in healthy older adults. More specifically it was expected that one particular aspect of verbal cognitive performance, verbal fluency, would be enhanced with crossword puzzle training. Methods: A fully randomised trial was conducted with 41 healthy older adults (mean age = 66 years). Participants were assigned to a four week training program in crossword puzzles or another cognitively stimulating activity (Sudoku). Verbal intelligence was assessed with the National Adult Reading Test (NART) to ensure group similarity in verbal ability before training. Verbal fluency was assessed with the Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT) before and after training. Results: A 2 (group) 3 2 (time) mixed model ANOVA showed a significant interaction (F (1,39) = 23.53. Conclusions: These findings are very promising, suggesting that crossword puzzles may facilitate cognitive performance by enhancing verbal fluency. Further research is required to determine whether other facets of cognitive performance are also enhanced through crossword puzzle playing, and whether the effects are maintained over time. At this stage, however, it would appear that one very simple and cost effective way to increase cognitive reserves, and potentially delay the onset of Alzheimer's Disease is to complete challenging crossword puzzles.
Hohaus, L., & Macoun, M. (2011). P3-296: Enhancing verbal fluency in healthy older adults. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 7, S611–S611. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2011.05.1738