Will reading and solving puzzles prevent dementia?

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The saying of "you will lose it if you don't use it" is often said in relations to our mind wellness. But then how far can we use our mind to avoid it from declining in it thinking abilities. Some professionals have shared their thoughts and research with regards to this issue with Medical News Today.

Dementia can be found amongst millions of people in the world. This disease goes a long way to affect your memory and the way you think. Alzheimer is the well-known form of dementia in the world.

Sadly, no cure has been found for people living with dementia, however the good news is that there are some medical cares that can reduce the impact of its indication. 

Many researches are currently being carried out to get more knowledge on dementia so that the appropriate medical care can be given. Researchers are also taking a look into our daily habits and our way of living which might have effects on one getting dementia. 

In attempts to identify dementia risks, researchers try to detect how we reason when it comes to performing task that has to do with using our brains. Examples of such tasks are are crossword puzzles and reading.

A Neurology.org finding(Cognitive Activity and Onset Age of Incident Alzheimer Disease Dementia) produced in 2021 shed light on the fact that activities which causes us to think more, like reading, checker games, letter writing and puzzles can help slow down the early stages of Alzheimer's disease for as many as five years for people who are above the age of 80. 

Also, a PNAS findings published in 2022 made it known that people who spend a lot of time doing activities that does not challenge their minds like watching television are more likely to get dementia. People who do more cognitive activities such as using their computer on the other hand stand a very low chance of getting dementia. 

Another study publication in July 2023 from JAMA  titled “Lifestyle Enrichment in Later Life and Its Association With Dementia Risk“ by Zimu Wu  indicated that adults who often perform activities that require them to think critically like playing chess, crossword puzzles and writing journals stand a lower chance of developing dementia. 

Medical News Today in their attempt to get more information concerning this disease spoke to five professionals on how mentally challenging activities lowers risk of developing dementia, things that reduces risks of developing dementia and ways to be active with regards to dementia research. 

Carrying out tasks raises brain awareness

The vice president of international therapy at Linus Health and a voluntary assistant professor of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Dr. Joyce Gomes-Osman was the first person to speak with MNT. 

She confirmed that tasks that challenges one's thinking abilities like crosswords puzzles and reading do improve the brain and prevent it from damaging. She compared this to a having your own library in your brain.

She went on to say that, our brains are like a shelf. Whenever we learn something new it adds up to the library shelf we have up there. This shelf we build in our brains provide a barrier which prevents us from losing our memories. 

To make our library perform to expectations we need to have a library that covers a wide area. In that case even when we do away with certain books, our brains can still perform as expected. 

Our cognitive reserves are acquired through years of educating ourselves alongside the experiences we have had in life. The experiences that were challenging the most that made us to think more helps build up our cognitive reserve.

A Neurology study published in 2022 brought out findings as to how thinking abilities such as educational achievements and hobby activities in one's childhood affected their way of reasoning. 

1,184 people British were studied from childhood till the age of 69. They took reasoning test with the highest score set to 100. 

By the end of this test, researchers discovered that people who attended schools and had degrees or higher educational backgrounds scored a median point of 1.22 more than those without any school educational backgrounds. People who find themselves performing six or more task activities during their spare time scored a median extra point of 1.53 than their counterparts who performed four or lesser activities during their spare time.

For those working in the professional field or above average level jobs, they had 1.5 more points than those whose job required lesser or no skills. Also, they found out that people who could read very well had their brain reasoning power reduce at a slower pace as compared to those who couldn't read that well.

Dr. Robert Wiggins, a neurologist with Novant Health in Charlotte, made it known to MNT that, just as our physical body can become unfit and not perform to expectations, our minds can also do same.

Reasoning Activities engage different parts of the brain

Dr. David Hunter, assistant professor of neurology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston also spoke with MNT. According to him, activities that involves different parts of the brain can have numerous advantages. Even for patients who have dementia, any brain activity that requires different parts of the brain to be used at the same time is good. 

Puzzle reading, art, engaging in conversation, playing games and work are some examples. He however made it clear that, sitting and watching television doesn't do the trick.

He continued by mentioning coloring books, music, word searches and talking are all activities that can be done if patience don't have the strength to engaged in their former leisure activities. 

Is there a limitation as to how our cognitive reserve works? 

Experts have made it known that a person's ability to think helps them maintain their thinking abilities. However, they have also made it clear that there are levels to which we can build up our cognitive reserve through brain activities.

MNT also spoke to Raphael Wald, a psychological doctor and a certified neuropsychologist at Baptist Health Marcus Neuroscience Institute and he said that:

For individuals with high IQs, they handle dementia quite well because they have built up their cognitive reserves. With dementia you cannot overcome it by doing memory activities like crossword puzzles. It can possibly slow the process down but that's just about it. 

Dr. Karen D. Lincoln, a professor in the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the University of California, Irvine also shared her view with MNT. 

She made it known that there might be some truth in the fact that mental exercises like solving crossword puzzle clues, decline the rate of not so serious cognitive damage, however the fact cannot be said to be entirely true. 

She added that solving puzzles and reading are activities that stimulate the brain and doesn't entirely improve our cognitive reserve and reduce the chances of developing dementia. It is better to think of our body systems as one part working as a single unit than to disintegrate them into different parts. 

Dr. Gomes-Osman accepted the fact that leaning on mental exercises alone is not enough to help lower chances of developing dementia. To improve in our cognitive abilities, we need to aim at performing different and many healthy tasks. That is the only way which has been proven to help.

The 12 Versatile risk components for dementia

Dr. Gomes-Osman concerning what attitudes are to be aimed for in dealing with dementia made reference to the 2020 report from Lancet Commission.

The reports which elaborated on 12 versatile risk factors which causes 40% of dementia are:

1.An individual educational background 

2.Their extent of group contacts

3.Hearing disability

4.Exercise pattern

5.Characteristics of depression

6.Use of alcohol

7.Midlife plumpness 

8.Vulnerability to air contamination

9.Smoking Routine

10.Injuries to the head



Research has shown that acting on these characteristics can help lower the risk of developing dementia by lowering neuropathological damage such as inflammation and push up cognitive reserve ability. 

Dr. Gomes-Osman even went ahead to say that suppose we all took heed and started practicing these activities right away, a third of the dementia cases in the world will significantly reduce in a year to come. 

Taking action to lower chances of developing dementia

It doesn't matter if you are having memory loss already, going ahead to learn something new will help develop your brain health. Putting your brain to the test can build up your focus, reasoning abilities, memory and give you a better life. 

You can come up with new experiences which are fun or watch something new as all these will help improve your cognitive ability. 

She added that, our minds are designed in a way to quickly notice things which are unfamiliar. So, pick something that isn't to difficult nor easy and that should do. 

Also, you can take a step further by changing the places you do your tasks. This can better your brain health as it can make you admire the good parts life has to offer. 

For instances, if you normally enjoy going for walks, make it a point to walk somewhere different. Perhaps you can also take a different road to work or try a new grocery shopping store. Trying to figure out where the milk shelf is in the new store can help stimulate your brain as you think. In a day, do your best to try to see something new or different. 

African Americans are those found to have the highest chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer's diseases in the United States so Dr. Lincoln included a unique inscription for them. 

For African Americans who normally play games like dominoes, spades or bid whist, they are participating in activities which are good for their brains. This is not because these games are that difficult but by playing you interact with people and socializing is good for the brain. 

This article was written in coopertion with Nate Parkerson