Brain Fact: Crosswords are fun and may improve your ability to find words, but they don’t help your brain’s overall cognition or memory
A lot of people do crossword puzzles each day with the belief that this activity will help keep the brain young and even keep Alzheimer’s or dementia at bay. Unfortunately, there is no evidence for this belief. Crossword puzzles flex one very specific piece of cognition–the ability to find words, which is also known as fluency. Fluency is a type of process based in the speech and language centers of the brain. So doing crosswords might help you get better at word finding, but that’s the sum total of their positive benefits to your brain.
A recent study that pitted brain crossword puzzles against Posit Science’s brain training activities found that that BrainHQ training improved cognitive function while crosswords seemed to have no positive effects.
Dr. Michael Merzenich suggests that there is one way to make your daily crossword puzzle boost the brain a bit more: make it challenging enough to push your brain to the next level. One idea is to give yourself a time limit and see how fast you can do it. Or, try a puzzle that’s harder than your normal puzzle skill level. Dr. Merzenich also notes that doing a daily crossword is a good way to see if your memory is holding up: if the crossword you do each day starts to seem more and more difficult to you, perhaps it’s time to get your memory checked or start doing BrainHQ to keep it sharp.
Crosswords might not keep you sharp, but they are fun! Try our brain-trivia crossword to see how much you know about the brain. Or, to learn more about research on the effects of crosswords vs. brain training, read about this independent, peer-reviewed study in 681 participants.