The art of self-testing by attempting cryptic crosswords in later life: the effect of cryptic crosswords on memory self-efficacy, metacognition and memory functioning

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Abstract

Background:

Previous research has suggested that older adults who are more cognitively active in later life show an attenuation in cognitive decline in healthy aging. Furthermore, cognitive intervention studies have indicated that ecologically valid cognitive interventions can promote cognitive functioning but only in taskspecific abilities. Since it has been shown that the art of self-testing can promote metacognitive awareness in older adults, attempting cryptic crosswords may be used as a cognitive intervention for older adults.

Methods:

In Experiments 1 and 2, a questionnaire technique was used and demonstrated that older adults became more aware of their episodic memory deficits after attempting cryptic crossword clues. Based on this, Experiment 3 used an intervention technique over a six-week period to investigate whether such awareness enabled older adults to improve cognitive functioning in a number of domains. This experiment used a revolutionary within-subjects technique to control for potential mediating factors.

Results:

The results supported previous research in that older adults showed an increase in the monitoring pathway of metacognition but were unable to use this enhanced awareness to change their behaviour when undertaking objective tests of cognitive ability. Post-hoc analysis highlighted subgroups of older adults who showed improvements in certain cognitive abilities, such as episodic memory functioning and judgement of learning abilities.

Conclusions:

The standard clinical trial technique might be inappropriate when testing either cognitive interventions or pharmacological tests. The within-subjects approach could be adapted to investigate follow-up effects of different types of interventions including ecologically valid cognitive interventions.

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