An online investigation of the relationship between the frequency of word puzzle use and cognitive function in a large sample of older adults

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2019 Jul;34(7):921-931. doi: 10.1002/gps.5033. Epub 2019 May 16.


Objective: The identification of modifiable lifestyle factors to preserve cognitive function in older individuals becomes increasingly of importance. This study examines whether word puzzle use is related to cognitive function in older adults.

Methods: Cognitive data from 19 078 cognitively healthy individuals aged 50 to 93 years enrolled into the online PROTECT study were evaluated for self-reported frequency of performing word puzzles on a six-point scale, ranging from "more than once per day" to "never". Nine cognitive tests covered a range of domains including focussed and sustained attention, information processing, executive function, working memory, and episodic memory. Analyses of covariance were used to determine any differences between the six response groups.

Results: Each of the 14 cognitive measures analysed showed highly statistically significant main effects of the frequency of performing word puzzles. For each measure, the group who never performed word puzzles performed most poorly, with the group who reported occasional puzzle use also performing more poorly than virtually every other group. Measures of speed provided the greatest discriminations, with a grammatical reasoning score differentiating the two highest frequency groups, performing word puzzles daily or more than once daily.

Conclusions: The frequency of word puzzle use is directly related to cognitive function in adults aged 50 and over. Future work needs to determine whether engaging in such puzzles can favourably influence cognitive trajectory with age.

Keywords: PROTECT; ageing; attention; cognition; memory; word puzzles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Self Report