Crosswords & Cognition: New Research Supports Benefits of Word & Number Games for Older Adults

A recent study provided further encouraging evidence about the positive impact that cognitively stimulating leisure activities can have for older adults. It also provided important new evidence that it’s never too late for such activities to have a beneficial impact.

This study used data from the European Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement, focusing on older adults’ participation in cognitively stimulating word or number games such as crosswords or Sudoku. Participants were asked about their participation in such games twice, two years apart, when they were also given tests of memory, their ability to work with numbers, and their verbal fluency. In addition, the survey included a number of questions on demographics and characteristics like education and social activity, which allowed researchers to better isolate the impact of the cognitively engaging activities.

The researchers found that the participants most likely to engage in word or number games were female, younger, more educated, and single. They were also more likely to be in better health and have a larger social network. This study found that earlier participation in cognitively stimulating activity was associated with better cognitive performance at a later point in time. This benefit is seen even after controlling for other characteristics. This was the case for all of the cognitive tests administered. Those participants who were still doing cognitively stimulating activities at both points in time showed the greatest cognitive benefit in all areas of cognition measured. The study also found that the benefit of such activities was greater for participants with lower levels of education.

The other main findings suggest that the benefit of these cognitively engaging games extends throughout old age. This study showed that regardless of age, individuals who engaged in these types of games showed the same amount of cognitive benefits. Even more interestingly, those individuals who were not playing these games the first time measured, but who were playing them two years later, also showed cognitive benefits from these games. This suggests that it is never too late to begin to see the benefits of cognitively stimulating leisure activities.


Litwin H, Schwartz E and Damri N. Cognitively stimulating leisure activity and subsequent cognitive function: a SHARE-based analysis. The Gerontologist. (2016). gnw084 DOI:10.1093/geront/gnw084

Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

Download FREE Copy

    Add insight to your inbox

    Join our email list to receive information about the latest research from Mather Institute. Just complete the form below to subscribe.

    Thank you!

    You are now subscribed to the email list.
    A confirmation has been sent to the email you provided.

    Continue to Website Share with a Friend