Sudoku and Crossword Puzzles
One of the biggest fears for seniors is losing their mental sharpness or developing dementia. It’s understandable that some of the brain’s edge will dull with age. That’s unavoidable for many. But did you know the brain will atrophy just like your muscles if not worked out regularly? Fortunately, you can continue to exercise your brain just as you do your body.
Studies show one of the best ways to do this is with puzzles like Sudoku and crossword puzzles. These puzzles involve logic, memory and concentration. Senior living communities around the country enjoy the mental challenge, concentration and calming effect these games provide.
Your brain is like silly putty. You can mold it. Stretch it. Change it. This is called its plasticity.
Even as we age, we are still able to grow and stretch parts of our brain. Its nerve tissues grow like muscles. And working out one area can affect the entire brain.
Your brain also produces dopamine, a chemical responsible for learning and memory. Studies show that Dopamine production increases when you are engaged in solving puzzles.
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So will doing puzzles like Sudoku and crossword puzzles help defend against dementia? Possibly. At the very least, you’ll find other benefits. Let’s look briefly look at Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
Sudoku is a logic puzzle with simple rules. See the Sudoku puzzle below. There are 81 boxes arranged in a grid of nine columns and nine rows. It’s further divided into 3x3 sub-grids called regions. You are given number clues from one to nine (see example).
The objective: to fill in the empty boxes with numbers from one to nine. But one to nine can only appear once within each row, column and region.
Modern Sudoku was designed in 1979 by an American who called it “Number Place”. In the 1980s, the Japanese popularized the game giving Sudoku its name that means “single number”.
Today, newspapers around the world publish Sudoku puzzles. There are Sudoku songs, video games and the Sudoku World Championships.
In case you’ve been cryogenically frozen for the last 100 years, a crossword puzzle is a game designed to test your overall knowledge and memory. You fill in squares on a grid both vertically and horizontally with words. Each square is numbered and each number has a clue supplied.
Some clues provided are fill-in-the-blank, e.g. "__ Boleyn" = Anne. Others are more difficult.
Many crossword puzzles have themes like “The States” or “Popular Music.”
Training the Brain
Scientists admit there is still so much we don’t know about aging and the brain. But one recent study shows that the relationship between memory training (like the skills involved in puzzles) and mental acuity is strong.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, involved nearly 3,000 people with an average age of 73. It ran from 1998 through 2004.
Some of the people were given memory training, while others received no training. After the training, those trained on memory showed ‘significantly higher performance than those who received no training.’
In addition, those trained reported less difficulty performing activities of daily living than their untrained counterparts.
One of the study’s authors, Michael Mariske, said that since total training time lasted only 10 to 18 hours, ‘imagine if you could do something like Sudoko where people practice these skills every day.’
The takeaway from the study, according to lead author Sherry Willis, is that older adults can improve their cognitive abilities with mental exercise just like exercising the body. She said you need to challenge yourself regularly and don’t do things that are too routine.
Sudoku and crossword puzzles could be the answer. Each game is different. Each is challenging.
Other Puzzle Benefits
Ask many Sudoku practitioners what they like about the game and they’ll probably say it’s relaxing. The reason: focusing on the puzzle for periods of time produces a meditative-like state. It takes you away from your stresses and into a tranquil state.
Sudoku and crossword puzzles also increase your concentration. This concentration can lower your heart rate and your blood pressure.
Sudoku and crossword puzzles are not only fun, but they can also provide seniors with health benefits. The puzzles can help keep memory sharp, reduce stress and improve concentration. They can also help make senior living easier by improving performance of daily tasks.
Updated: Mar 23, 2011