To some of us the jigsaw is an old childhood friend which kept us occupied for hours (and out of our parents’ hair) on rainy days or long journeys.
Jigsaws however are being credited with a far greater therapeutic effect than simply relieving boredom as there is increasing evidence that they can be a major contributory factor in delaying or even reversing the effects of dementia.
Whilst we are not suggesting the jigsaw has become a magical cure-all for those affected by Alzheimer’s, there are a number of ways in which doing jigsaw puzzles can clearly benefit sufferers. We have outlined below just a few of these benefits.
Doing jigsaw puzzles can help improve cognitive function.
Researchers have found that sufferers who worked on a puzzle just a couple of times a week for around three-quarters of an hour at a time displayed either improved memory capacity and recollection or a marked reduction or slowing of overall decline. Building puzzles actually stimulates both sides of the brain with the left side providing logic and order whilst the right side brings creativity and intuition, all of which are applied in the process of putting together a jigsaw. Jigsaws are a popular learning tool to help children develop their ability to recognise shapes and colours, to apply elementary reasoning and introduce concepts such as the process of elimination and dementia sufferers can similarly benefit from practicing these skills.
It improves visual perception.
With Alzheimer’s there is also often a decline in eyesight and puzzle building involves searching for pieces which match a combination of specific shapes, colours and patterns so this helps build visual acuity as well as exercising the short-term memory. Scanning for the pieces of a jigsaw is an almost constant process and in some instances can provide a gentle work-out for the eye muscles to help maintain ocular health.
It offers increased social interaction.
Dementia is often aligned with a sense of loneliness or separation from the world, so completing a puzzle with friends or family members gives them a wonderful opportunity to chat and spend time with others whilst both encouraging collaboration within a group and giving a sense of shared accomplishment.
Puzzles help relaxation.
Jigsaw puzzles can be very relaxing, as mentioned above doing puzzles exercises both sides of the brain and this can help calm people down who are easily agitated and bring a sense of focus for those who are often restless. So whilst a jigsaw puzzle requires concentration, concentrating the mind actually brings relaxation which brings greater contentment.
It can improve general well-being.
Relaxation, which we’ve touched on above, can help dementia sufferers with their breathing, heart rate and also reduce their blood pressure which are key factors to better general health. Not only can doing jigsaw puzzles help in this regard, but they can also give a sense of accomplishment and pride. Many with Alzheimer’s become frustrated that they are no longer able to do tasks they once took for granted, so rebuilding their confidence in their own abilities through completing puzzles helps re-instil a sense of purpose. In addition jigsaws help strengthen spatial and visual skills and can help dementia sufferers to combat a decline in coordination and manual dexterity. It is often said that the simplest pleasures in life are the best and the enjoyment of completing a jigsaw puzzle in itself can go a long way to improving their sense of well-being.
So, the above is just a glimpse of the ways jigsaw puzzles can help those with dementia, but there are certain things we still need to take into consideration when deciding what kind of puzzle will help; no two dementia cases will necessarily be the same and it is important to keep the needs of the individual in mind.
Firstly choose the puzzle carefully. Whilst children’s puzzles will probably be too easily completed try to avoid anything too complex, a jigsaw puzzle needs to be challenging but not impossible. Simpler puzzles may be appropriate where the Alzheimer’s has become more advanced but still needs to stimulate the intended recipient. Also bear in mind that Alzheimer sufferers often struggle with impaired vision so it may be worth covering the table or work-surface with a cloth which offers a good contrast against the pieces so they are easier to see. (White is often the safest bet unless the chosen puzzle happens to be a snow scene!)
Try to pick a puzzle which will be pique their interest. Jigsaw puzzles are available in a vast range of subject matter so find a genre that you know will appeal to them and hold their attention, you may even opt to get a personalised puzzle made using a family photograph or favourite picture to make the completion of the puzzle even more involving for the sufferer. In certain cases it may be appropriate to try them with a selection of puzzles with varying themes depending upon their interests, but be wary if overwhelming them in the process.
You should also ensure that whomever is using the puzzle is able to do so in comfort. Ensure there is adequate light and space for them to work in and that they are seated comfortably, it can be very easy to lose track of time when immersed in a jigsaw puzzle!
In summary, we can see that there are a number of ways in which jigsaw puzzles can benefit those suffering from the various forms of dementia in either the longer or shorter term. Puzzles as a whole have long been used to stimulate the brain and have now shown they can play an important part in helping to delay or reverse the effects of degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. In helping to stem the tide jigsaw puzzles allow sufferers to once again feel engaged and active and provide a little extra quality of life which would otherwise have been missing.
If you are interested in buying a jigsaw that may benefit someone you know, here are our top choices: