Puzzle-Solving Actually Doesn't Stop Mental Decline, Study Shows

A new study shows that doing puzzles actually doesn't slow down mental decline. This may be disturbing news for some, as it has been widely accepted as a medical fact that puzzle-solving can sharpen the mind and stave off deterioration of thought processes. It's been a popular belief that in a way, doing puzzles can keep you young and mentally sharp.

This study suggests that this may not be the case, according to the BBC.

The study tested 498 participants, all of whom were born in 1936. They were all part of a group intelligence test at age 11. When they were 64 years old, the current study began. This study examined participants' memory recall abilities and mental processing speed, among other factors, to see how their mental skills changed over the years.

Problem-solving did not protect against mental decline, according to the study's findings. However, those who did engage in solving puzzles had a higher starting point from which to begin their decline.

Past studies have suggested that doing problem-solving puzzles, such as Sudoku, can help individuals maintain their mental abilities with age.

However, not many studies look into childhood mental ability or test scores, according to Medical Xpress. That's one factor that sets this study apart.

The study was led by Roger Staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and University of Aberdeen. Researchers used data found in the archives of the Scottish Council for Research in Education to locate the 1947 test scores used in the study.

Several tests were conducted on the 64-year-old participants of the study, including the National Adult Reading Testing Score and the Digit Symbol Substitution Test. A Typical Intellectual Engagement test was administered to test general problem-solving, intellectual curiosity, and other factors.

While engaging in intellectually stimulating activities was found to improve day-to-day cognitive performance, it did not slow down the effects of mental decline associated with aging.

Close up of person doing a puzzle
Pixabay | Gadini

The findings are surprising, as the idea that frequently solving puzzles can help stave off mental deterioration has been seen as accepted science in popular opinion. It may even be recommended by doctors as a way to stay mentally sharp as the years pass.

The study conducted in Scotland seems to directly contradict all those other studies and all those popular opinions.

However, this is just one study. Many more will need to be conducted over long periods of time to fully assess the effects of problem-solving on the brain over a lifetime, and how working on puzzles regularly may affect different brains.