Can jigsaw puzzles help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

We all know how to keep our hearts healthy, but what about our brains? It’s puzzling that brain health is less publicised compared to heart health, as relative numbers of brain disorders are on the increase. This is, in part, due to improved longevity, but a longer life mired with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, is not one most of us would choose.

The usual things like exercise, not smoking, not drinking to excess, eating well, and avoiding recreational drugs, will all aid brain health. In addition to this, a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins and fibre, plus foods with antioxidant properties is key, as is undisturbed sleep cycles. The less obvious factors could include learning a new language, musical instrument and brain training games - like jigsaw puzzles.

That feeling of satisfaction once you place the final piece into a jigsaw is one you probably remember as a child. And if you continued to enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles in adult life, you’ll appreciate how engrossing, addictive and entertaining they can be. That’s why including jigsaw puzzles as part of dementia care is a great way of providing an enjoyable activity for someone with the condition.

Jigsaw puzzles are ideal for patients with Dementia and Alzheimers. While puzzles are therapeutic, they also provide exercise in memory and are said to improve brain functions, especially short-term memory. Studies show that these activities ward off cognitive decline at any age. Linked to this is a warning against retiring too early. An inactive mind, as well as body has a negative impact on our brains.

How do jigsaw puzzles help dementia and Alzheimer's patients?

In any stage of Dementia or Alzheimer's, puzzles are said to ease some of the symptoms and provide stimulating comfort to the patients, as well as provide a sense of control. Puzzles can reawaken memories in patients and improve mental speed and thought processes. Furthermore, jigsaw puzzles for adults are thought to decrease mental decline and cognitive functioning. But mental processes are not the only way that puzzles help Dementia and Alzheimer's patients.

Jigsaw puzzles help to stimulate the brain and also provide a social activity that can help connect the patient to caregivers and loved ones while helping to create a positive emotional connection. Many dementia patients lose interest in activities easily and jigsaw puzzles can help stabilise this decline. After all, who can pass a puzzle in the works and not try to help?

How do jigsaw puzzles help dementia patients?

There’s been plenty of research into why jigsaw puzzles can be beneficial for someone with a healthy brain (including reducing the risk of developing dementia), but less about the benefits if you’ve already been diagnosed with the condition:

  1. For someone with dementia, completing a jigsaw puzzle can give them the ‘feel-good’ effect, which is the production of dopamine in the brain, leaving them feeling happy with a sense of accomplishment that they’ve enjoyed their time completing the puzzle.
  2. Doing a jigsaw puzzle works both sides of the brain simultaneously and allows it to move from the Beta state (the wakeful mind) into the Alpha state, which is the same state experienced when dreaming. This means doing it can have a meditative and therapeutic effect on the brain, helping to keep someone with dementia calm and restful, which can help reduce blood pressure and lower breathing rate too.
  3. When seniors with dementia work on puzzles with family members, the activity provides a chance to engage in social interaction. The family members not only assist their older parent but also provide a boost in self-esteem each time he or she correctly places a piece. The satisfaction from making a correct move causes the release of dopamine, which further enhances concentration, memory, and motor skills. The chance to engage in casual conversation is also cognitively stimulating.
  4. When looking at puzzle pieces, seniors must stimulate their long-term memory to remember how to recognise and match colours, patterns, and shapes. Short-term memory is also necessary when finding a location to accommodate a piece that didn’t have a place earlier. As the brain areas work in combination to solve the puzzle, neurons are busy making new connections, which bypass damaged communication routes.

In a Cochrane Review of different studies, scientists looked at 15 studies involving 718 men and women with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The review was looking at the effect that mentally challenging activities that stimulated thinking and memory, such as games and jigsaw puzzles could have on someone with the condition. Study participants generally did the activity for around 45 minutes at least twice a week, either with trained care staff or with family carers.

The Review found that mental stimulation improved scores on memory and thinking tests for those with dementia, equivalent to about a six to nine month delay in worsening of symptoms.

Some of the studies also found that those with dementia who engaged in such activities had increased feelings of well-being and a better quality of life, including improved communication and interactions with those around them.

Choosing the correct jigsaw puzzle for an Alzheimer and dementia patient

Choosing the correct jigsaw puzzle for an Alzheimer and dementia patient

When it comes to providing a jigsaw for someone with dementia, it’s important to consider what stage they’re at in the dementia journey and how that might impact on their ability to complete it. Not all puzzles are equal and not all patients are in the same category when it comes to selecting the proper puzzle to use.  Here are some considerations to use when selecting a puzzle for your loved one with dementia:

  1. Stay away from children’s puzzles with large pieces that are too easy to complete. Also avoid puzzles that are complex or only include a few colours. Find a puzzle that’s challenging but not impossible.
  2. Choose a puzzle that will evoke memories.  Custom photo puzzles with large puzzle pieces are perfect for patients as they may evoke memories of self and loved ones in the process. Personalised puzzles are perfect for this. 
  3. Set up a station where the puzzle will be assembled that provides proper lighting, your loved one can sit comfortably and safely and is a place that won't be used for other activities often. Place a white tablecloth over the area you intend to work on the puzzle. This will help add contrast to the area for those with vision difficulties and will help them distinguish the puzzle pieces.
  4. Choose the piece count wisely. Choose puzzles with large pieces that are challenging to complete, which will challenge the mind. The goal is to challenge the mind, while also being possible to assemble.

Can jigsaw puzzles help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

Studies show that people who do jigsaw and crossword puzzles have longer life spans with less chances of developing Alzheimer's disease, memory loss or dementia. Puzzling - especially challenging 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles - stimulates the brain and actually wards off the plaque that is the marker of Alzheimer's, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Neurology.

The study compared brain scans of 75-year-olds to 25-year-olds. The elderly people who did puzzles regularly had brain scans comparable to the 25-year-olds.

In closing, choosing an engaging activity that involves the use of jigsaw puzzles is fun and therapeutic. Coming up with activities isn't always easy and puzzling can provide a great therapy session for those who have Alzheimers or Dementia.

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Rest In Pieces does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

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