Dementia and Jigsaw Puzzles
Growing up I always found gift giving for my parents difficult. Ties, cologne, perfume…how boring! My parents gave their oohs and ahhs over my gifts, every year, but in all honesty, how many ties did my father need?
Once mom started having symptoms of dementia, birthdays and holidays really stumped me. Bathrobes and slippers became my go-to items. Mom seemed to enjoy them, that is, until I found all my "wonderful" presents never used when cleaning the house.
It appears that I'm not the only one with this problem though; I often receive emails from caregivers looking for gift ideas for loved ones with dementia. Through the years I've learned some gifts are better than others. The various stages of dementia require a little more ingenuity.
As many of us know, dementia affects everyone differently. There are many different symptoms of dementia, and those symptoms will help you pick the right gift. For example, some symptoms restrict activities and other symptoms might make other activities better. The key is to understand what the person with dementia is capable of doing and choosing activities accordingly. Different stages of dementia will result in different options.
I'm constantly on the look out for great activities. Early this year I decided that my new go-to gift would be jigsaw puzzles.
A recent article correctly noted that, "Dementia slows down the brain’s function and playing games like crosswords and solving puzzles is good for the affected person." This supports other findings like this piece published in the Huffington Post, where researchers from Germany found individuals who participated in dementia therapy (with games and puzzles) were positively affected in preventing their dementia from progressing. Also, this one-year study, based on 61 participants, found patients were able to continue doing their everyday tasks. However, patients who only took dementia-slowing medications had their dementia progress. In addition to their therapeutic effects, puzzles also make for a great activity to do together.
So, I set out to find the perfect dementia puzzle.
The problem I faced was this: All the puzzles I found in nearby stores were either too childlike or had too many pieces. I wanted something that would be age appropriate for a person going through the different stages of dementia.
Now, you should know that I'm a sucker for my clients, so it's not uncommon for me to troll the Internet late at night looking for just the right activity. I was searching for an art book and suddenly I stumbled onto a website that had the perfect collection of jigsaw puzzles! These puzzles are based on nostalgic covers of the Saturday Evening Post, a well-treasured publication from the past of many dementia patients. Saturday Evening Post covers are perfect subject matter because they are age appropriate, fun and there are many to choose from.
Truth be told, everything looks great on the Internet, but before I recommend anything to my clients, I have to rigorously test the product myself. Call me skeptical, but I've been burned too many times. So I contacted the maker to find out more.
It turns out that Karen Miller, the manufacturer of the puzzles, has a passion for the elderly. I learned that in 2007 she saw a show about Alzheimer's, and the show brought back all the memories of her mother. She remembered how her mother had suffered through many strokes and the symptoms and stages of dementia. Karen is not only licensed to use the Saturday Evening Post covers, she was able to bring them back to life in her own unique way. The site describes how Karen came up with the idea:
"Her Mom always liked puzzles and playing cards, both became very difficult for her. Puzzle pieces being too small and puzzles too big were frustrating for her."
Karen also makes memory cards that are great for matching games and terrific for reminiscence therapy.
I have personally found that the artwork on these puzzles motivates and stimulates memories. The pieces fit well in hands and they are solidly built. I also find it amazing to listen to patients as they remember their memories of Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post.
To learn more about these terrific puzzles, visit Karen's website at http://memoryjoggingpuzzles.com.
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