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Helping Dementia - One Puzzle Piece at a Time

Posted by on 7/27/2016

"The Baking puzzle was offered to my Mom on a visit recently.  Mom loved it and it provided her and I with an in-the-moment base for conversation that also brought back many warm memories of Mom baking for her six children, church bake sales, etc."

24 piece puzzle for dementia

Jigsaw puzzles offer more than just finding how pieces will come together. For people with memory loss, activities that engage the mind and keep it active, like puzzles, can play an important role in keeping cognitive skills intact for as long as possible.

The Benefit of Puzzles for People with Dementia

Jigsaw puzzles stimulate the mind in many ways, plus it can be a beneficial and enjoyable way for seniors with dementia and their caregivers to spend time together. For instance, the image in the jigsaw puzzle can be a great way to remind people of familiar places, things and activities. This sense of familiarity is important for people who experience memory loss and it can spark memories recalled from the past, like the woman enjoying the Baking puzzle.

Another way jigsaw puzzles stimulate the mind is through the repeated search for puzzle pieces with similar shapes and colors. This requires the consideration of what each piece looks like and some memory about which two pieces will be tried to fit together.  Jigsaw puzzles also require visual-spatial skills and organization, as the person looks at and turns pieces and determines how they connect together.

Jigsaw puzzles work both the left and right sides of the brain and make connections between the two sides. The left side focuses on individual parts and is stimulated by problem solving, while the right side sees the big picture and is stimulated by randomness. Because jigsaw puzzles allow for the stimulation of both sides of the brain, they help connect brain cells, providing a good mental workout.

"I found the 12 piece puzzles to be a first class start to get the mind working and matching up colors before form. We found that following up with the 24 piece puzzles gives the mind a good work out."

large piece puzzle for Alzheimer dementia

An important aspect to consider when you choose a jigsaw puzzle for someone with Alzheimer's or other form of dementia is finding a puzzle appropriate for him or her, both in size and content. For example, try to find a puzzle with pictures that are familiar to the person you’re caring for, and avoid puzzles that seem childish. You should also try to find a puzzle that is challenging, but not too challenging.  MindStart offers 12, 24, and 63 piece puzzles to allow choices for all different levels of ability and have large pieces that are easy to handle.

Even people who have not done puzzles in the past may enjoy the challenge of finding the pieces and putting them together to reveal the full image.  And they can be a great item to use with visitors, as they work together on a common goal.  The person with dementia, like all of us, will find great joy, pride and success in getting that last piece to fit into place and the full image to be shown.

So what are you waiting for? Spill those pieces out and get to work!

Contributing Author: Danielle Korby, University of MN Journalism Major

MindStart puzzles are designed exclusively for people with dementia, offering images that are adult-oriented and not too detailed. They allow people with dementia to successfully set puzzles far into the disease process, when traditional puzzles no longer work.

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