- Brain-stimulating activities can preserve cognitive functions, scientists say
- Those who played cards, draughts and crosswords had greater brain volume
- Alzheimer’s Research UK said tests do not prove puzzles prevent condition
Playing cards and draughts and doing crossword puzzles could help stave off Alzheimer’s disease, scientists say.
New research shows brain-stimulating activities could help to preserve vulnerable structures and cognitive functions in regions of the brain involved in the disease.
Research suggests people who spend more time playing these games are also more likely to perform better in learning, memory and information processing tests.
But charity Alzheimer’s Research UK said that the study - while ‘useful for identifying factors that may influence our risk of memory decline’ - does not confirm whether or not playing such games actively prevents the condition.
As part of the study, scientists from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in the US performed a series of tests on 329 people with an average age of 60.
Those taking part were healthy but deemed to be at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease due to their genetic background or family history.
As well as giving them brain scans, scientists also asked the participants how often they took part in activities such as reading books, going to museums and playing card games or doing puzzles.
The researchers, who presented their findings to the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen, found those who reported playing games were more likely to have a greater brain volume. They also scored higher on cognitive tests.
The researchers concluded that, for some individuals, participating in such games could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Laura Phipps, science communications manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘Observational studies like this are not able to pinpoint cause and effect, but they can be useful for identifying factors that may influence our risk of memory decline and dementia.
‘Previous evidence has suggested that keeping the brain active may help boost ‘cognitive reserve’, allowing the brain to resist damage for longer, and this study adds to the ongoing ‘use it or lose it’ debate.
‘It’s important to note that the people in this study did not have dementia, and we can’t say from these results that playing card games, reading books or doing crosswords will prevent the condition.
‘The best evidence suggests that we can reduce our risk of dementia with a healthy lifestyle – eating a balanced, healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check.’
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society charity, added: ‘This research shows an interesting association between the size of certain brain areas, memory performance and time spent challenging the brain with games and puzzles.
‘However, it doesn’t tell us that playing mind-stimulating games can cause positive changes in brain volume or memory- this needs to be tested in longer term studies or clinical trials.
‘Although there is no harm in playing games and puzzles, research shows that the best steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing dementia is taking regular exercise, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure under control.’