One of the nicest features of most puzzles is that they can be group activities. Picture, for example, a family sitting around the kitchen table, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle strewn about on the table top. These family members are working together to achieve a unified goal. Whereas games tend to foster competitiveness, puzzles can foster cooperation, everyone working for a shared goal, and this collaborative spirit can inspire conversation and socialization.
~ Stan Isaacs — in a conversation with Scott Kim
There are many types of puzzles, and almost all types can be considered appropriate puzzles for Alzheimer’s disease, or for any other dementia or cognitive disorder. We generally associate “jigsaw” and “crossword” with the word “puzzle”, but that term can also apply to brain-teasers; mazes; logic and mathematical puzzles; paper-and-pencil puzzles, like Sudoku, or the variety of puzzles found in our Senior Smart Puzzles and trivia books. You can find puzzles of most of these types in our store, and all are appropriate Alzheimer’s puzzles.
Put simply, a puzzle poses a problem to be solved. The problem-solving process is a cognitive exercise—puzzles have therapeutic value! We see repeatedly that the stimulation provided by these activities improves memory and brain function in people with dementia, as well as putting everyone involved in a better mood. See our Activities page to learn more about why activity is so essential for a person who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Click on the triangle to start the video
A puzzle should be fun for the person who is involved in solving it. A puzzle should not be too easy, nor should it be too hard. Puzzles that are too easy and solved quickly are disappointing; a puzzle needs to present a worthy challenge. On the other hand, puzzles that are too hard are discouraging; this is especially true for someone who is struggling with the effects of a cognitive disorder.
Puzzles for Alzheimer’s
Fortunately, over the last several years, puzzles for Alzheimer’s have become much easier to find; due, in large part, to a young man named Max Wallack, who, when he was a boy, enjoyed working jigsaw puzzles with his great-grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease. The reason he enjoyed this time with his grandma is that he saw that the simple activity made her happier. When he was still quite young, he started a public charity organization, Puzzles to Remember which collects puzzles and gives them to Alzheimer’s programs throughout the United States and beyond.
Alzheimer’s patients, who are often agitated, seemed calmer and more focused when they worked with jigsaw puzzles.
Max also persuaded puzzle maker Springbok to create a line of jigsaw puzzles specifically for people with Alzheimer’s disease. They did this by cutting the pictures from their 1000 or 1500 piece puzzles using the dies from their line of children’s puzzles. The result is puzzles with 36 pieces (some with only 12 pieces), so they are easier, but they have pictures that are more appealing to adult sensibilities. Many of those puzzles are available in our store.
Another young man who has made a mark developing Alzheimer’s puzzles is Ben Atkinson-Willes. As a second year design student at Kingston University in West London, and inspired by his grandfather who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Ben created a special puzzle designed to, “suit his (grandfathers) need and respect his age.” Ben’s Puzzles are a little different: the edge of each picture makes up a frame for the puzzle, and a background design helps one recognize the correct piece. A selection of Ben’s Puzzles is also available in our store.
The video above shows one of Ben’s Puzzles being assembled. It’s the best way to demonstrate the ingenuity of design. (The cow is no longer available, but there are four other simple but stimulating images.)
Bright colors, beautiful themes, memorable subjects; Puzzles to Remember are designed specifically to be Puzzles for Alzheimer’s.
Crosswords, spot-the-difference, trivia, missing words, mazes; all of these activities are fun and have a right answer. And all are cognitively stimulating. Here is a collection of puzzles with an appropriate level of difficulty.