Crossword Puzzles Are Not as Good As Sudoku Puzzles for Exercising the Brain
By Dr. Rob Winningham
Crossword puzzles, one of the most commonly recognized cognitive stimulation activities, are not actually helping people maximize their memory and attention abilities very much (of course they are not hurting either). Many people are surprised by the assertion that crossword puzzles are not beneficial in preventing age related memory changes. What cognitive abilities are primarily involved when people do crossword puzzles? Crossword puzzles involve getting a cue and then attempting to retrieve previously learned information, which is something that people with age related cognitive impairment and even early to mid stage dementia can do fairly well. Age related changes in cognition and earlier stages of dementia are primarily associated with impairments in the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and make new memories; crossword puzzles don’t really exercise those abilities, but Sudoku puzzles do.
Sudoku puzzles exercise attention and concentration and research shows that exercising those abilities are the most likely to generalize or transfer to the things middle age and older adults need to do in order to maximize their ability to make new memories.
So how do you do Sudokus? There are really only three rules, you need to have each number 1 through 9 in every horizontal row, every vertical column, and sub square on 9 cells. Books of Sudoku puzzles are ubiquitous and can easily be found. And, I recommend http://krazydad.com/sudoku/ for free downloadable Sudoku puzzles. However, 9 X 9 puzzles can be challenging for some people to learn, especially if they are already experiencing some cognitive impairment.
We have developed a set of easier Sudoku puzzles designed to teach people how to do Sudoku and provide an easier alternative that might be more appropriate for some people (including children). Start with the easy 4 X 4, then go to the difficult 4 X 4, then easy 6 X 6, followed by harder 6 X 6. Then, the individual should be ready for an easier 9 X 9 puzzle. Note that “easy 9 X 9 Sudoku” is somewhat of a misnomer and they can be made even easier by writing in some of the correct numbers.
Download Dr. Rob Winnngham’s Mini Sudokus
If you want to make a 9 X 9 sudoku puzzle work your brain even harder then try to do the appropriate level of Sudoku as fast as you can two times. Then, try to do the same level of puzzle while the television news is on. It will be difficult to inhibit paying attention to the television and you can monitor how well you are doing. For example, if someone has the same time to complete the puzzle with and without the television on then they are excellent at inhibiting their attention to irrelevant stimuli.
Many people find the assertion that crossword puzzles are not as effective as Sudoku when trying to improve core cognitive abilities hard to believe. But recent research supports this assertion. Click here to view the 2013 study.