Every night I wind down by playing two games on my tablet: a crossword and a Jumble word puzzle. I’ve always enjoyed word puzzles. I inherited my love of the Jumble puzzles from my mother, who was a devoted player. One of the ways we bonded as she recovered from cancer surgery was working on Jumble puzzles together. My dad was an avid reader, but his love of words didn’t extend to games. It was particularly cruel when Alzheimer’s took away his favorite hobby of reading.
There are many apps and articles that promote “brain games” as a way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. While proponents of such games are enthusiastic about their potential in supporting cognitive health, the research so far is mixed when it comes to benefits.
One study that involved people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment found that crosswords helped support cognitive health more than other games, though the positive results were not dramatic.
There’s no harm in playing such games if it brings you comfort. I do notice that if I’m tired or not feeling well, I struggle with completing the puzzles as fast as I normally do. I like to challenge myself to complete the crosswords as fast as possible. For me, this means not stopping to ponder a clue that I’m stuck on; instead I keep going and complete as many other words as possible before coming back to the ones that stumped me.
While such games may not offer protective benefits against Alzheimer’s, we do know that doctors use a series of tests which could be considered game-like to help diagnose someone with the disease, such as word memory exercises. I’ve participated in a study which has me complete a series of games along with a cognitive questionnaire a few times per year. Doing word games as part of your daily routine could help you spot a decline in your cognitive abilities earlier than you might have noticed otherwise.
Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash.