When we were kids, a challenging jigsaw puzzle could keep us occupied for hours. Many adults still enjoy passing the time putting puzzles together with friends and family. For children, puzzles help develop important spatial and visual skills, yet the benefits of jigsaw puzzles are relevant for adults, too. Especially for seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of memory loss, jigsaw puzzles help the brain in more ways than one.
“Piecing together a jigsaw puzzle is excellent exercise for the brain,” says Lonette Bentley, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care community in Pensacola, Florida. “Seniors living with Alzheimer’s need to participate in various activities that stimulate cognitive functioning. Puzzles not only get the brain working, but allow for social opportunities between loved ones and caregivers and create positive emotional connections.”
If you’re a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, read on to learn how jigsaw puzzles piece together a picture of cognitive wellness for seniors!
8 Benefits of Puzzle-Building
It’s easy to understand why working on jigsaw puzzles is good for a healthy brain. From stimulating concentration to strengthening short-term memory, the benefits of puzzles combine to help us reduce our risk of dementia.
Including jigsaw puzzles as part of a care routine for someone who has already developed memory loss also has remarkable benefits for the mind and spirit. This enjoyable activity can improve brain function and stir pleasant memories from childhood. Research even shows that, among the benefits of puzzle-building, seniors with Alzheimer’s can decrease their rate of cognitive decline. Benefits include:
Slower decline of cognitive functioning – In a review of several studies, researchers found that seniors with memory loss who worked on puzzles for 45 minutes two times a week had improved scores on memory tests. These improvements accounted for approximately six to nine months delay in symptoms or decline.
Powerful brain workout – Building a puzzle exercises both sides of the brain, creating a stimulating workout. While the right side of the brain focuses on creativity and intuitive thought, the left side is busy with logic and order. Puzzles combine these functions for full-brain involvement.
Increased visual perception and memory – When you put together a puzzle, your eyes are constantly scanning for a piece that matches a specific shape or color. This not only improves visual recognition (which often declines with Alzheimer’s), but strengthens your short-term memory as well.
Improved interactions with others – Puzzles can be easily be a solo activity, but they’re also fun to do with others. Senior with memory loss often have trouble interacting with those around them, especially as their symptoms progress. Spending time together with a puzzle creates opportunities for easy conversation, collaboration, shared accomplishments and bonding. For someone who is nonverbal, completing a puzzle gives them a unique chance for connection.
Therapeutic meditation – Activities that exercise both sides of the brain encourage a mental state that allows for meditation. This state lets us feel calm and content. Working on a puzzle can benefit those with Alzheimer’s by calming them down if they’re agitated or restless. Puzzles require concentration, which can help loved ones relax and alter their mood.
Better physical health – When our minds can relax and meditate, it’s good for our physical health, too. Calming activities like jigsaw puzzles can lower the breathing rate, slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure.
Feel-good chemicals – Completing a task, such as finding the missing piece to a puzzle, releases dopamine in the brain. This chemical makes us feel good. We feel the effects of dopamine when we accomplish a goal, complete a project or solve a problem.
Purposeful activities – For people with Alzheimer’s, feeling a sense of accomplishment can be rare. Their disease may limit them from doing the kinds of tasks they used to do with ease. A simple project, such as finishing a puzzle, can give them a big boost in pride and sense of purpose.
Considerations for Puzzle Activities
Although putting together a puzzle may seem like a simple activity, you still need to put in some thought if you want your loved one with Alzheimer’s to benefit. Consider a few things before you invite your loved one to work on a puzzle:
Choose the puzzle wisely. Stay away from children’s puzzles with large pieces that are too easy to complete. Yet, you should also avoid puzzles that are complex or only include a few colors. Find a puzzle that’s challenging but not impossible.
However, as your loved one’s memory loss progresses, puzzles will be more and more difficult to complete. Simple puzzles are appropriate for late-stage dementia. (Puzzles made specifically for people with Alzheimer’s are available that include low piece counts and adult-appropriate images.)
If your loved one has arthritis or has trouble picking up small pieces, take this into consideration when selecting a puzzle.
Pick a puzzle that has a pleasant picture, or may evoke memories for your loved one. The picture that they work to complete will keep their minds occupied while they work. You can even order a custom puzzle online with your own photographs.
Set up the puzzle station in a place that has plenty of light. It should also be a place where your loved one can sit comfortably and won’t need the space for other activities.
Place a white tablecloth over the area you intend to work on the puzzle. Those with Alzheimer’s often have trouble with vision, and the added contrast of the tablecloth will help them distinguish the puzzle pieces.
Creating Moments of Care
“Choosing engaging activities is among a caregiver’s top priorities when providing support for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Bentley. “Coming up with fun, effective ideas isn’t always easy, especially for busy family members who aren’t aware of the best caregiving techniques and tools.
“If you would like to learn more about great activities to plan for a loved one with memory loss, reach out to the team at Clarity Pointe Pensacola! We’d be happy to share some of the ideas we utilize with residents at our community and help you apply them for your loved one at home.”
Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.