Written by Active Minds on Tuesday the 27th of November 2018.
Jigsaw puzzles are a favourite pastime for people both young and old. A fantastic way to pass a few relaxing hours either on your own or with a loved one, away from the distractions of everyday life. However, for people with dementia, jigsaw puzzles, and more specifically dementia jigsaw puzzles, have a huge number of benefits including:
Doing a jigsaw puzzle stimulates both sides of your brain, creating a meditative and therapeutic effect on a person, often referred to as an Alpha state. This mental state encourages a person to relax, unwind and feel calm. For someone with dementia, this can be extremely helpful especially if they experience anxiety or are feeling unsettled.
Much like gentle exercise is good for the body, cognitive games like jigsaws are good for the brain, helping to keep it healthy and can even help slow down the brains decline as dementia progresses. Undertaking a few hours of these types of mentally challenging exercises a week can have an incredible benefit for people with dementia, stimulating and exercising both sides of the brain. The right side, which is responsible for creativity and intuitive thought, and the left side which is logic and order.
Puzzles require you to constantly scan for the correct shaped/coloured piece. This not only improves ones visual perception but will also help to strengthen short-term memory as well.
Whilst jigsaw puzzles can be enjoyed on your own, they are also a great way to help encourage interaction and socialisation, which can often be a struggle for people living with dementia. People can complete the jigsaw together, helping each other find the right pieces, place them in the correct spaces and watch as the picture emerges. Conversation may naturally occur as they enjoy the puzzle or the images on the jigsaws may help to trigger memories and spark dialogue.
Research has shown that when we are engaged in completing a jigsaw puzzle, the dopamine (feel-good chemical) increases in our brain, helping people to feel happy. There is also a great sense of accomplishment, achievement and pride experienced when one finally completes the puzzle.
So, as you can quite clearly see, dementia jigsaw puzzles have clear benefits, but what type of puzzle should you choose for you or your loved one?
There are different types of dementia puzzles that have been created for the different stages of dementia. Overall, the type of jigsaw you choose will be directly related to the number of pieces the jigsaw has. For people with early stage dementia, they may find completing 100 or more pieced puzzles fairly easy. However, as dementia progresses, completing standard jigsaws becomes more difficult, not just due to cognitive decline but also their ability to actually manipulate the pieces.
At Active Minds we have 63, 35, 24 and 13 piece puzzles. As the number of pieces decrease, the size of the pieces gets bigger, making them easier to handle for people with dexterity issues, and the puzzle is simpler to complete.
The images on the jigsaw are also carefully chosen to help evoke memories, which may trigger discussion around those specific memories.
You may also want to consider personalised jigsaws which can display a picture of your choice, perhaps of your family, pets or a significant event in your loved one’s life. This is a powerful for reminiscence as it can stimulate memories and conversation.