Online puzzles can give us the memory of a 20-year-old, study finds

New research reveals online Sudoku, crosswords and puzzles can boost our short-term memory.

Online Sudoku, quizzes and crosswords can boost your brain and give you the short-term memory of someone in their 20s, new research has found.

Academics from the University of York found playing puzzles on your smartphone or tablet are better for older people than any other type of online game.

But how do they help brain health, and which puzzles should you spend your time playing to get the most benefit?

A man sat on a sofa playing puzzles on his tablet.Credit: Shutterstock / – Yuri A

What does the new study say?

Puzzles are most beneficial for older people

In the research by the University of York, academics studied 181 people aged from 60 to 81 who enjoyed online games, including crosswords Sudoku and quizzes.

They compared their results with data from 209 people aged from 18-30. Researchers found that those in the older group who did these online puzzles, did almost as well in short-term memory tests as people aged 18-30 who didn’t do any digital games.

Their research also suggested that older adults who played strategy games did not show the same improvements in memory or concentration – the games that were most beneficial for the younger age group.


Puzzles played in the study

Participants across the study took part in more than 300 different games. The puzzles included: Ballsort, Bejewelled, Clockmaker, Cross Logic, crosswords, online jigsaws, Match 3, Minesweeper, Numberzilla, Puzzledom, Scrabble, Sudoku, Tetris, Word Connect, Wordle and Word Link.

Dr Joe Cutting, from the University of York, was involved in the research. He said: “Puzzle games for older people had this surprising ability to support mental capabilities to the extent that memory and concentration levels were the same as 20-year-olds who had not played puzzle games.”

Fellow researcher Dr Fiona McNab, told Saga Exceptional: “It’s too soon to say whether playing digital games can actually improve our working memory and attention. However, if it can, this study suggests that playing strategy games might be most beneficial for younger people and playing puzzle games might be most beneficial for older people.”

She added that more research is needed into why strategy games weren’t seen to have the same benefit as puzzles.

Why we need to work our brains

According to The Alzheimer’s Society, up to 20% of over-65s could be suffering from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Symptoms of this include forgetting the names of people and places, being easily distracted, misplacing items and forgetting the right words.

Neuroscientist Dr Rachel Taylor told us that the new research was based on quite a small study, but the results are encouraging.

She agreed that the best thing we can do to help ourselves as we get older is to keep our brains active.

“We can create new pathways until the day we die,” she said. “So it makes really good brain health sense to exercise our brain like we do our body.

“The more we do of anything, the more the brain does it – which includes when we stagnate. That then becomes familiar, so the brain just wants to keep on doing the same.”

A woman doing puzzles on a mobile phoneCredit: Shutterstock /Alex from the Rock

Where to play online puzzles

Many of you are already reaping the benefits of online puzzles.

Keith Stuart is the editor of Saga Exceptional’s Quick Thinker newsletter. He said: “I’ve always been a great believer in the value of puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords. They’re great for exercising your memory and logic skills and crucially they get you to think about literacy and numeracy in fresh ways.

“We get lots of emails from readers about how Saga’s puzzles give them a few moments each day to just sit down quietly and think.”

He says it’s easy to get started. You can play online at Saga Exceptional’s free dedicated Puzzles section. Most of the major newspapers have similar sections on their websites, including the New York Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph (although some of these require a subscription).

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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