The idea of “use it or lose it” and doing problemsolving activities such as crosswords has been widely accepted as a way of protecting brains from cognitive decline in later life.
However, researchers have found that while doing this throughout life could boost mental ability and give a person a “higher starting point” from which to decline, it would not necessarily help prevent age-related mental decline or dementia.
What is dementia?
A chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.
A study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), followed 498 people born in 1936 who had all taken part in the same group intelligence test at the age of 11.
The results found that while taking part in problem solving through things like crossword puzzles and Sudoku could boost mental ability, it had no influence over mental decline as people age.
No studies have so far shown that brain training prevents dementia.
Last year the Global Council on Brain Health encouraged people to find a stimulating activity to challenge the way we think instead.
It came after research published in 2003 by Dr Joe Verghese found that those who participated at least twice a week in reading, playing board games, and playing musical instruments had significantly reduced risks for dementia.
This is because regularly using the brain for complex tasks creates a greater number of connections between brain cells.
So when the wiring of the brain starts the break down with age, or if dementia starts to attack, the brain has ‘backup’ networks to use instead.
He told the BBC that since the research did not consider people with dementia, “we can’t say from these results whether specific brain training activities could impact a person’s risk of the condition”.
“In addition to staying mentally active, keeping physically fit, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within recommended guidelines and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we get older,” he added.