Puzzles provide mental stimulation. They offer a great way to give the dementia patient a sense of control over their world, while boosting memory recall. They foster social interaction and emotional connections. Puzzles can help to improve short-term memory, as well brain function, making them beneficial for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
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What Puzzles Are Good For Dementia Patients?
Putting puzzles together can be a meaningful activity for both a dementia patient and their family members. Simple puzzles open the door for reminiscing and discussing fond memories. There is also a pleasing sense of accomplishment when the last piece is placed.
When choosing a puzzle for older adults with dementia, there are a few things to take into consideration.
Each person will be at a different level of dementia, so you want to choose one that best fits with your senior loved one’s abilities. You want to challenge the person without making the puzzle too difficult to complete.
Don’t choose one that is too intricate or challenging for the person’s ability because it can quickly lead to frustration, which is the opposite of what you want.
That said, you want to get something that isn’t too easy for a dementia patient in the earlier stages of the disease, because they will feel like it’s too childish (which can, again, trigger frustration).
The best puzzles are ones that can trigger memories for the senior. Large-piece, custom photo puzzles personalized with their loved one’s pictures or a favorite pet can help older people feel more connected to them.
The same holds true for a puzzle made of travel photos from the senior’s past or one that features a single beautiful picture of places the person has enjoyed visiting.
A large piece puzzle also makes it easier for elderly people who may have trouble with fine motor skills.
Cognitive Puzzles For Seniors
You might be wondering if cognitive puzzles, such as a word search puzzle or a number puzzle, can help with the onset of dementia or slow the progression of the disease.
A 2018 UK study looked at whether word puzzle use could help cognitive function in seniors. The study enrolled 19 078 cognitively healthy individuals aged 50 to 93 years and performed 9 different cognitive tests with 14 areas being measured. Some of the participants never did puzzles, some did them once in awhile, and some people did them daily.
The researchers found that, “The frequency of word puzzle use is directly related to cognitive function in adults aged 50 and over.”
They reported that, “For each measure, the group who never performed word puzzles performed most poorly, with the group who reported occasional puzzle use also performing more poorly than virtually every other group.”
Are Crossword Puzzles Good For Dementia Patients?
Despite the availability of computer games in recent years, seniors still turn to crossword puzzles and number puzzles more frequently. But, do they help ward off dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?
Among other things, the 2011 Bronx Aging Study looked into brain health and cognitive decline. It followed 488 adults over a three-year period, who were cognitively intact at the beginning of the study. The study participants were clinically and cognitively assessed every 12 – 18 months during the study.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that “late life crossword puzzle participation, independent of education, was associated with delayed onset of memory decline in persons who developed dementia.”
In addition, they reported that, “Crossword puzzle participation at baseline delayed onset of accelerated memory decline by 2.54 years.”
Large Piece Jigsaw Puzzles For Dementia
The sensory stimulation that jigsaw puzzles can provide can be very beneficial for older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
When picking out jigsaw puzzles for someone with dementia, it’s worth mentioning again that you need to take the person’s cognitive ability level into consideration.
Someone in the very early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may do just fine with a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle. A senior in the middle stages, however, would quickly become frustrated with a puzzle that has a large number of pieces.
Additionally, look for a large piece dementia jigsaw puzzle. Visual impairments can mean that your senior can see large pieces much better than small pieces. Arthritis can make it difficult for seniors to pick up or manipulate small puzzle pieces.
It can also be helpful to put a solid color tablecloth under the puzzle for contrast between the puzzle pieces and the table. Don’t use a patterned tablecloth, though, because the pattern will likely create confusion as to where the tablecloth ends and the puzzle pieces begin.
10 Best Puzzles For Seniors With Dementia
To help you narrow down your choices, here are our top 10 picks for the best puzzles for seniors with dementia.
Customizable, Personalized Large Piece Jigsaw Puzzle
This personalized jigsaw puzzle can be ordered in several different sizes, so it is easily customizable to your senior’s needs. You simply supply a high-resolution photo of your choice and decide on the number of puzzle piece you want (35, 70, 120, 200, etc – up to 1,000 pieces).
The company will make a matte finish 2.2mm (.09 inch) thick cardboard puzzle. You can even add text to make it more personal.
Relish 35 Piece Steam Train Dementia Jigsaw Puzzle
The Relish 35 Piece Steam Train Dementia Jigsaw Puzzle is the perfect puzzle for a train lover. It has 35 pieces made of durable cardboard and is easy to clean.
This puzzle measures 12.13 x 8.82 x 0.59 inches.
Relish 35 Piece Bathing Birds Dementia Jigsaw Puzzle
The Relish 35 Piece Bathing Birds Dementia Jigsaw Puzzle features colorful birds that dementia patients will recognize from their own backyards.
Made of durable cardboard, the finished puzzle measures 12.13 x 8.82 x 0.59 inches (30.8cm x 22.40cm x 1.50cm).
Keeping Busy Porch Swing Buddies 35 Piece Sequenced Jigsaw Puzzle
This sequenced jigsaw puzzle features color coding on the puzzle pieces and on the puzzle tray that “help guide the person with dementia to successfully complete the puzzle on their own.”
Great for seniors with cognitive challenges, the color coded pieces allow the person to complete a section at a time by working with just one color at a time.
This puzzle also comes with a full color laminated sheet that shows the completed puzzle to further aid in putting it together.
The completed puzzle measures 14.5 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches.
Bits and Pieces – Window Cats 100 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle
The Bits and Pieces 100 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle has an adorable winter scene of cozy kitties watching a pretty red cardinal through the window.
The puzzle is made using a thick chipboard backing. This makes the puzzle pieces solid and prevents bending when assembling the jigsaw. It also creates a tight fit between each piece, so be sure your senior is able to handle the pieces (arthritis may make it difficult).
This puzzle measures 15 inches X 19 inches when completed.
Bits and Pieces – 100 Large Piece Jigsaw Puzzle – Kitten and Puppy
The animal lover in your life will appreciate the endearing cat and puppy on this 100 piece, large piece jigsaw puzzle. The picture is a little more challenging due to the background of bubbles, plants, and flowers.
The puzzle is made of durable cardboard and measures 15″ x 19″ when completed.
Springbok 100 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle Take Flight (Organic, Non-toxic Ink – Made in the USA)
Who doesn’t love seeing hot air balloons floating in the sky? Sure to bring a smile to your senior’s face, this 100 piece jigsaw puzzle from Springbok is made in the USA.
Designed especially for adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia, it features “sustainably sourced organic, non-toxic soy-based inks & utilizes 100% recycled puzzle board materials. The high quality puzzle pieces are made from thick cut 75 point board, which is 18% thicker than the industry average.”
The finished size is 23.5 inches by 18 inches.
Relish Word Search Puzzle – Level 1 & 2
According to the manufacture, the Relish word search puzzles have been “designed and tested alongside people with dementia.” Words can be found horizontally or vertically. Level 1 features a reduced grid size that allows for easier word finding. Level 2 is a little more challenging.
Keeping Busy Word Search
The Keeping Busy Word Search is for adults – it does not use childish words. The manufacturer says, “These games have been tested with seniors at various stages of dementia to ensure that the puzzles are well-suited, and enjoyed.”
The puzzle’s words all run from left to right or top to bottom, not backwards or diagonal. It uses familiar words from the topics Measures, Sports, Trees and Music.
The cool thing about these word search puzzles is that the set comes with eight reusable puzzles at each of three levels of difficulty (24 puzzles total) to match the person’s abilities. To reuse, you just wipe them clean and start again.
Keeping Busy Wooden Tangram Puzzle
This Wooden Tangram Puzzle engages fine motor skills along with cognitive skills. It comes with different shapes of wood and three full size, laminated templates (cat, rooster and a dancer).
The senior matches the wood pieces to the template shapes to successfully complete the puzzle. The level of challenge can be adjusted to match the person’s abilities, too.
One side of each template shows each piece that makes up the shape. The other side only shows the overall outline of the shape. If the person needs a little help to complete the blank side, you can also draw in lines and erase them as needed.
The whole puzzle is four inches square. The smallest wood piece is a triangle that measures about 2″ x 1.” The largest piece is a triangle measuring about 4″ by 2″. Each piece is almost 1/2″ thick, which makes them easy to pick up and manipulate.