Cryptic Crosswords

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Senior Matters: Crosswords help train your brain

MENTAL CHALLENGE: Nellie Clark and students at U3A Ipswich learning about cryptic crosswords.
MENTAL CHALLENGE: Nellie Clark and students at U3A Ipswich learning about cryptic crosswords.

AS we grow older it is important to keep up the maintenance of both our bodies and our brains.

Just like a motor vehicle that needs to be maintained, so too do our bodies and minds.

Our bodies, like machines, need to be well oiled to keep the moving parts supple and in good condition.

Our minds also need care and attention to keep them functioning and in perfect working order.

Keeping our bodies in good order is very well documented and advertised – there are gyms to attend, walking, playing sport and a myriad of other activities to help keep us healthy.

These activities will also help in keeping the mind in perfect condition. But is there anything else that can be done?

Apparently scientists have found that challenging the brain with new activities helps to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them.

As we grow older we tend to prefer doing the things we’ve always done, tasks that we are familiar with, and that’s understandable.

But the brain benefits from having to tackle something it doesn’t know.

Solving puzzles, especially crosswords and word searches, is a fantastic and painless way of increasing your vocabulary and keeping your mind active. Working puzzles is great “exercise” for your brain and a great way of staying mentally active whether you are 20 or 90.

Nellie Clark from Ipswich’s University of the Third Age agrees.

Nellie runs classes on cryptic crossword a couple of times a week in a friendly and relaxed environment without any pressure of competition.

According to Nellie, her passion and desire is to “preserve my mental function until I no longer need it and that is why I am drawn towards cryptic crossword”.

“As our brains twist and turn every which way in search of the solution it is the mental gymnastics releasing endorphins and creating neurons that are of the most benefit to our brains. Finding the correct solution helps as a bonus for the ego,” she said.

The basics class in cryptic crossword aims to encourage beginners to gain confidence in their own ability, have the courage of their convictions while learning about, and practising how to interpret, the cryptic jargon.

“If you have never succeeded in completing a cryptic crossword you will be pleasantly surprised by what you are able to achieve after and or during your first lesson,” Nellie said.

And let’s face it, puzzles can be fun!

If you’re often stuck on public transport, or in waiting rooms, or have time to kill while the kids are in drama class or sporting events, a small volume of puzzles in your bag and a pen will help to while away that tedious waiting time.

It seems that most of the experts agree that higher levels of mental activity throughout life are consistently associated with better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Importantly for older or retired people, increased complex mental activity in later life is associated with a lower dementia risk, which is good news for those who are able to work beyond retirement age.